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What you need to know for 01/19/2018

Schenectady projects it needs $6.8 million to keep same student services

Schenectady projects it needs $6.8 million to keep same student services

School leaders cognizant of looming statewide financial challenges
Schenectady projects it needs $6.8 million to keep same student services
Students in the Schenectady High School library during an after-school program in March 2017.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

SCHENECTADY — The city school district will need $6.8 million just to offer students the same level of services next year as they got this year, according to preliminary budget figures presented Wednesday to the school board.

That amounts to a 2.7 percent increase in spending, compared with the current year, and the figure represents the district’s "rollover budget," defined as the amount needed to absorb growing teacher pay, retirement contributions, health care and other expenses without adding anything new for students.

“This is showing $6.8 million in order to provide the existing service we have now, so if we were to get $10 million extra, that really only represents $3.2 million more that we can do something with,” school board member Cathy Lewis said.

The rollover budget is based on the district’s contractual promises to teachers — annual increases for experience plus a 1 percent across-the-board raise — as well as projections about how health insurance and other costs will increase. The district’s contribution to the state educator retirement system — an annual driver of rising costs — is expected to increase slightly.

Kimberly Lewis, the district finance director, said the estimates were as conservative as possible and represent a worst-case scenario.

“This projection includes no increase in foundation aid, no increase to the tax and no use of fund balance,” Kimberly Lewis told the school board.

Last year, the district projected a $6.1 million rollover shortfall at the start of the budget process, but that gap narrowed by the time the district put a final budget up for voter approval. Spending $8.7 million more than the year before was enough to lift student programs by $5.7 million last year. The district also cut the tax levy by $1.1 million.

The upcoming budget is shaping up to be a tough one for schools statewide. Lawmakers are facing their own budget shortfalls, and officials are warning that federal policy will negatively impact state finances.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is expected to present an executive budget next week, said during the State of the State that lawmakers should “dedicate more of the state’s school aid to poorer districts,” which is how the state’s core funding formula is set up but is not always adhered to by politicians.

“That’s a good initial signal,” Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring said of the governor’s comments. “We will see how he actually backs that up.”

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