SCHENECTADY -- The graduation rate for Schenectady High School is expected to remain at approximately 60 percent as graduates take to the stage at Proctors Friday morning, Superintendent Larry Spring said Wednesday.
Spring said the graduation rate, the lowest in the region and down from 65 percent two years ago, is a result of millions of dollars in district budget cuts that hit as this year's seniors were transitioning from middle school to high school.
"I think about what we took away from these kids -- that we stayed flat, I think that's a victory," Spring said after Wednesday's school board meeting.
The rate was at 60 percent for Spring's first Schenectady graduation in 2013, before dropping below 60 percent for two years. It jumped to 65 percent in 2016 before falling back to the 60 percent level. In recent years, the high school has also graduated more students in August after the conventional graduation ceremony. Those grads boost the rate another few percentage points.
Under new state rules, the district will be scored based on its five- and six-year graduation rates, as well.
If the high school does not achieve a 67 percent graduation rate for students after six years, it will automatically be listed as a school in need of state support. It appears the school may avoid that list for at least one year, based on the 2016 graduating class.
Spring said he did not expect graduation rates to improve dramatically next year, either; he again pointed to the wave of spending cuts in 2013 and 2014. But he said, starting with this school year's freshmen and sophomores, the rate should make notable improvements.
"It takes a while to realize what you've done to kids," he said. "Education cuts don't heal."
As students and families come to Proctors to celebrate graduation on Friday, they will be met by more familiar faces and possibly see fewer police officers, if any, than were present at last year's event, when tension over late-arriving visitors being barred from the event escalated into the violent arrest of a graduate's father.
District officials have worked with Proctors in an effort to better manage the flow of families in and out of the theater. More district staff will be on hand to take tickets and seat people for the event. Proctors-printed tickets will be used to prevent copies, and visitors will be encouraged to fill all empty seats. Late arrivals will be allowed to take seats during breaks in the action on stage, Spring said.
It was not clear as of Thursday what presence Schenectady police will have at the event. Schenectady Police Sgt. Matt Dearing, a department spokesman, said Chief Eric Clifford was in talks with Spring on Wednesday and that they would continue to coordinate around the event.
Dearing said police are always stationed in the Proctors area and would be able to respond if needed, but that they may not show up specifically for graduation if not called.
"We have officers assigned to that area on a daily basis, and those officers are obviously aware of the event going on at Proctors," Dearing said. "They wouldn't necessarily be dedicated for that event unless that's something the district will request."