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What you need to know for 07/27/2017

Public gets final chance to speak on Schenectady school budget

Public gets final chance to speak on Schenectady school budget

Tonight, the Schenectady City School District Board of Education will hold its legally required publ

Parents, teachers and even elementary school children have not been shy about voicing their opinions on the proposed 2014-15 school budget.

They’ll all get one more chance.

Tonight, the Schenectady City School District Board of Education will hold its legally required public hearing on the $164.3 million spending plan. As always, the hearing comes after the final date for adoption of the budget — meaning the school board can’t change anything now, regardless of what the public says. But if voters reject the budget at the polls in two weeks, the board can look back at the comments offered tonight in its second attempt to draw up a budget voters will support.

The hearing starts at 7 p.m. in the Mont Pleasant Middle School cafeteria.

The budget would raise taxes by about $60 for the average homeowner with a house assessed at $100,000. It raises spending by about $5 million and boosts the tax levy by 2.75 percent.

Homeowners would get a rebate for the full increase to their taxes under a new state program, but business owners and renters would not. State officials have not said when those rebate checks will be mailed, and it’s also not clear whether the rebate program will continue in future years.

School officials originally calculated they would have a $10.3 million gap between revenues and expenditures in next year’s budget, mainly due to contractually promised raises and increases in pension payments and other benefits. But the district received about $5.5 million more in state aid than originally expected, so the school board “only” had to cut about $4.8 million.

Cuts went deep, including the elimination of most magnet programs. The magnet schools coordinator and paraprofessional were eliminated, along with the foreign language program, which allowed some magnet school students to start learning a language in elementary school.

Superintendent Laurence Spring said the language program had proven to be ineffective, but school board members acknowledged it has been one of the most popular programs offered in the magnets.

The budget also eliminates some social workers — a year after the district increased psychologists and social workers to help the many students dealing with trauma.

Academic counseling was reduced, an attendance dean at the high school was eliminated and the district closed the 10-P program for students who had to repeat ninth grade. The district also cut some administrative positions, including workers in the central office, a messenger, a high school supervisor and a night school administrator.

High school students would see fewer choices next year under the proposed budget. In addition to the loss of the 10-P program, the TV station was cut, Zero Hour electives for students who came to school early were cut, JROTC was reduced, the Friday late bus was cut and under-enrolled electives were eliminated. Class sizes at the high school were also increased.

But students would see some benefits: They could take some electives and have them count as core classes, such as a play-writing class serving as an English class. They would also be allowed to skip gym class if they could prove they were doing the equivalent work outside of school, through athletics and other programs.

At the middle school level, health class would be offered in sixth grade, rather than being a separate class in seventh grade. Science labs would be reduced, and two world languages (the classes with the smallest enrollment) would be eliminated.

Spring said repeatedly most of the cuts were not ones he would recommend. He was suggesting them, he said, only because the district could not afford to keep everything.

He argued if the state provided the amount of money promised under the state aid formula, the district would have enough money to do everything, add much-needed counselors and reading specialists and still cut taxes.

The formula calls for Schenectady to get about $60 million more per year than it does now. Schenectady gets about 54 percent of the aid called for in the formula, the smallest percentage of any Capital Region school district.

School officials are filing a civil rights complaint with the federal Department of Justice, arguing state aid is distributed unfairly through the legislative process, as legislators negotiate to bring more money to their districts. Spring’s calculations show that poor, heavily minority districts end up getting less than wealthier, predominantly white districts, which he said was an unintended but serious consequence of the process.

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