The Schenectady City School District is looking to add over $4 million in new student programs and services, while cutting the local tax levy 1.4 percent, under a draft 2019-2020 school year budget presented to the school board Wednesday night.
The budget expansion, bolstered by an over $7 million increase in the district's state foundation aid funding, would add over 30 new teacher positions to the district and nearly 30 other new positions.
District officials focused the largest funding increases to schools identified as most in need. Breaking the district's schools into four need levels, the per-student funding increases in the draft budget range from $200 per student at Woodlawn, Howe and Zoller elementary schools to $400 per student at Martin Luther King Jr., Pleasant Valley and Yates elementary schools and Mont Pleasant Middle School. Schenectady High School would see an increase of $340 per student, under the draft budget.
“There's a ton of stuff in here we can feel really good about,” Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring said as he presented the budget proposal to the school board. “I think that notion of continuing to attend to some tax relief and being able to add in these really significant areas in program and services, it's a great opportunity.”
The district's general fund would grow to just over $200 million under the draft budget, with an total budget of nearly $230 million. District residents will be asked to approve the district's general fund on May 21. The tax levy cut would reduce how much the district collects in local taxes by about $750,000.
The new teacher positions would play a variety of roles in district schools, serving as math and literacy specialists, bolstering special education services and working in the district's general education continuum – a spectrum of targeted services that mirrors special education services but is offered to at-risk students who don't qualify for special education.
“This is a place we are finding lots of folks wanting to add,” Superintendent Larry Spring said of the general education continuum as delivered his budget presentation.
Over $1 million worth of the new investments will go into Schenectady High School, which plans to add six new teachers across different subject areas, an engagement dean who works closely with students, and a pair of staff members who would be focused on supporting students to reach graduation.
“Adding six teachers across a number of areas really what that means is creating more sections for kids, ensuring kids have the ability to take classes they have the desire to take and ensuring we have fewer holes in kids' schedules,” Spring said.
The new high school teachers, with each teaching five class sections, would result in over 900 student slots in classes, helping students better fill out schedules without relying on study halls and other passive class time. The high school staff has started to develop new courses, aiming to offer a wide array of classes that students are interested in taking such as social activism and sports and statistics.
“It's about creating opportunities for kids, and we are really excited about it, really excited,” said Diane Wilkinson, the high school principal.
At the elementary school level, new teachers would help eliminate classes that are split between two grades as well as offer students focused attention in math and literacy. An expansion of school social workers would support students' mental health needs. The budget proposal also increases funding for student field trips and after-school activities.
New investments would offer increased Spanish-language support to families, hire a diversion specialist to work with kids who submit to therapeutic services in lieu of suspension, and increase peer mediation services in the district's middle schools.
Another new expenditure aims to bring in nine teaching interns who would spend two years working alongside a classroom teacher as a student teacher, a more in-depth student-teaching program than the two months student teachers traditionally spend in a classroom, Spring said.
District officials also plan to spend around $500,000 from this year's budget to magnify the expansion of materials and equipment in key places, including revamping the sound system in the Mont Pleasant auditorium, purchasing new graphing calculators and microscopes and expanding classroom libraries in fourth and fifth grade classrooms.