No one could quite come out and ask for a bigger Schenectady school budget at Wednesday’s public hearing — but some teachers and school board members came close.
“We’re still behind where we were,” said board member Ann Reilly. “We’ve cut dozens of positions. I think teachers are struggling with huge class sizes.”
She did not, however, call for a change in the proposed $167.7 million general fund, which does not increase the tax levy. After changes in the tax roll and equalization rates, a property owner with the average house would pay $7 more.
Juliet Benaquisto, a city teacher and president of the district’s teachers union, also cited large class sizes in her comment on the budget. She asked the school board to work with the community to build support for higher taxes in the future. She said Schenectady’s per-pupil costs are lower than the average district.
“We have a lot of work to do for our students, and anything that can be done to improve teaching conditions would be welcome,” she said.
Teachers in split-grade classes are especially burdened because they must develop Common Core class plans for two grades, she said.
The proposed budget adds three teachers to reduce the number of split-grade classes. Those classes are created when there are not enough students to fill a full section of each grade level; students are instead placed in one classroom for two grade levels. Adding three teachers would not eliminate all of the split-grade classes.
One resident called for contract negotiations to reduce school taxes. Mary McClaine said teachers should pay 84 to 87 percent of their health insurance, rather than the 13 to 16 percent now.
“That is where your money is, go get it,” she said. “This taxpayer wants the union out of her pocket.”