Schenectady schools Superintendent Larry Spring on Wednesday said the school district's budget season is starting with the most positive outlook of the past decade.
Budget cuts are unlikely enough that district officials may not need to plan for them as a precaution, as they have done in every budget cycle since Spring took over as superintendent in 2012, he said.
“This is the first year I feel we might not have to plan for contingency cuts,” Spring said after Wednesday’s school board meeting. “We don’t know how much we will be able to add [in programming], but we will be able to add something.”
The comments came after district officials presented the first public cost estimates for the 2019-2020 school district budget. Assuming a 2 percent increase in state funding and a flat local tax levy, district officials estimate contractual increases in staff costs and other expenses will result in a budget gap of about $1.1 million. That is the shortfall the district would need to make up in order to maintain current programs and services for students.
Last year, the budget gap was nearly $7 million at this stage of the budget process, and the gap has been as high as $10 million at this point, during recent budget cycles.
The comparison to previous budget gaps, though, is not without variables. While this year’s presentation assumes a 2 percent increase in state foundation aid funding -- a boost of about $1.9 million -- last year’s budget presentation assumed no new foundation aid from the state.
During the school board meeting, Spring said he was optimistic the district would be able to invest in expanded programs and services for students – in the range of $3 million to $5 million – while also continuing to reduce the district’s local tax levy, the total amount collected from taxpayers.
“We would love to be able to take another step in that and grow what we are doing for the kids and provide even more stability for families and economic stimulus for the city,” Spring told the school board.
The state’s core education funding formula which is used to calculate what each district needs to educate its students, states Schenectady should receive about $40 million more than it currently does each year. Schenectady district officials on Wednesday said the shortfall equates to more than $100,000 for every classroom in the district, enough to add a second teacher to each class.
“The state’s formula says we should be getting in the neighborhood of $4,000 per pupil more,” Spring said. “It’s important for us to remember we are still -- even at our highest (funded) schools -- we are still a pretty far ways away from what the state says is a bare minimum to reach sound basic education standards.”
The budget process for school districts is only just beginning. Cuomo is expected to release his budget proposal later this month, with proposals from lawmakers to follow. The state budget is due April 1, which would give districts their final funding levels. District budgets are then approved by school boards later in April and go to voters for approval in mid-May.