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Schenectady school budget proposal cuts tax levy 1 percent

Schenectady school budget proposal cuts tax levy 1 percent

Spending plan adds 10 staff positions
Schenectady school budget proposal cuts tax levy 1 percent
Superintendent Larry Spring gives students high fives before they enter Howe Elementary on the first day of school in 2015.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY -- City School District taxpayers may get a little relief in next year’s school budget as school board members consider a budget proposal that cuts the tax levy by 1 percent.

The budget, which Superintendent Larry Spring presented to the school board Wednesday night, would also increase district general fund spending by 4.3 percent and add 10 staff positions, including a half-dozen teachers dispersed across the district.

“We do feel pretty lucky this year to be able to add some services to the budget,” Spring said. “We’re also saying to our taxpayers that we do acknowledge they are overtaxed and take some of that [funding] increase and devote it to tax relief.”

Receiving a 3.4 percent increase in foundation aid, the state’s core funding formula, the district was positioned to invest about $1.5 million in new student services. Last year, the district cut the tax levy by 2 percent and expanded student programs and services by around $6 million.

The district’s general fund – the spending voters will be asked to approve next month – tops $195 million under the budget proposal. The overall district budget, which also includes food service and special grants, would top $220 million next year under the plan.

Spring also used the meeting to lay out the district’s approach to allocating funds based on the needs of individual schools – an issue rising to greater prominence as districts in the coming years will be expected to report school-level budget and expenditure figures under new state and federal laws.

School officials divided the district's schools into four categories of increasing need: green, yellow, orange and red.

The district’s three green schools – Howe, Woodlawn and Zoller elementary schools – receive no increase in funding under the budget proposal.

“We found that not only were those buildings low need but we were spending more money per student than average,” Spring said.

But the district’s four red schools – Martin Luther King and Pleasant Valley elementary schools, Mont Pleasant Middle School and Schenectady High School – get nearly $120 per student, under the budget.

The rest of the district’s schools – eight schools that fall into the district’s orange and yellow need categories – receive between $100 and $110 per student.

In developing the building need categories, district officials take into account student reading and math proficiency scores, poverty rates, student behavior, daily attendance, special education needs and English language learner students.

“Schools like Woodlawn and Zoller are doing better, they have less stressors,” Spring said of the variable spending increases. “While we don’t want to take resources away from those places we are finding more intense needs at places like Hamilton and Lincoln and Mont Pleasant … driving increases to places where we’ve got intense needs.”

The program investments include expanding the district’s general education continuum, which was established in the current year’s budget and provides a range of services to students similar to how special education students are served. The high school is also looking to fund universal administration of the SAT in an effort to encourage students to consider college after graduation. Elementary schools plan to expand before and after-school tutoring programs.

The proposed budget also funds some safety upgrades, including specialized door stops for the middle schools that can be used to prevent someone from entering a room. The high school is getting money to add a film to windows that makes it harder to see inside of classrooms. The budget also sets aside some money for yet-to-be-determined, district-wide safety upgrades, such as expanded training.

“Why not more?” board member Dharam Hitlall asked, suggesting he would’ve liked to see more done to upgrade safety at the high school in particular.

The budget, which the school board will have to adopt later this month, will be up for public approval along with two school board seats on May 15.

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