Schenectady residents shouldn’t expect to see a school tax hike — or tax break — as district officials narrow in on a budget this spring, district leaders suggested during a public budget forum Thursday night.
“I feel really confident we won’t be able to lower taxes,” Superintendent Larry Spring said. Last year the district offered voters a budget that cut the district tax levy by 2 percent, which voters approved. “But I feel pretty confident I’m not going to bring forward a budget where I’m asking to add to the [tax] levy.”
School board President John Foley said the school board has long aimed to trim the city’s school taxes and echoed Spring’s position that he didn’t foresee boosting the district’s tax haul this year.
“The long-term goal has been to bring taxes down,” Foley said. “I agree with [Spring], I don’t want to raise [taxes], but what our ability will be to reduce taxes is contingent on what types of state aid we get.”
Foley reiterated his desire to not raise school taxes: “That’s a strong don’t want to.”
During a community meeting intended to garner public feedback about what types of things people would like to see added to the district’s offerings, Spring also took his most confident posture yet this budget season that the district will be in a position to preserve the investments it made last year in expanding student programs and services and hiring new staff.
“I don’t think we are going to end with a gap of $5 million; I don’t think we are going to have to cut $5 million,” Spring said, referring to the district’s rollover budget, which matches its growing costs against the governor’s budget proposal. During school board presentations this winter, Spring and other district officials have outlined how rising personnel costs — coupled with the governor’s budget proposal — left the district about $5 million short of providing the same level of students services and programs as currently in place.
Spring said the district will further trim that budget gap as it saves money as experienced teachers retire and are replaced with less-experienced, and less-expensive, teachers. He also said the budget would likely include savings in other areas where the district shifts how it approaches a particular task.
“My hope is that this year we will be able to do a little bit of adding to the budget,” he said, asking for feedback from the five members of the public who attended Thursday’s meeting.
The handful of parents and community members who showed up to offer their opinions wrestled with a wish list of new expenditures generated by individual schools and district departments. The list of potentially new offerings included an expansion of music teachers, boosting 10-month administrators to 11-month positions, incorporating new literacy technology into classrooms and a handful of new special education teachers and social workers.
The community members tended to support expansion of extra-curricular programs like music and art; they also called for new afterschool programs and improvements to the outside safety of schools through more traffic signals, stop signs and crossing guards.
“I don’t want to to increase the 10-month [administrators] to full time rather than give my kids a drama teacher,” said Mary Einhorn, a parent of two Zoller Elementary students who emphasized the importance of giving kids chances to connect to an interest like music or sports that gives them reason to focus on school. “They have to go to math, they have to go to English, but if they aren’t doing well, what do that have to look forward to?”
“Anything really to get the kids to want to be in school and stay in school are critical,” said Christine Osuba, who has an 8-year-old son at Pleasant Valley Elementary School.