Schenectady City School District residents next month will be asked to approve a budget of over $200 million that adds dozens of staff positions, expands student services and trims the local tax levy for next school year.
The city school board on Wednesday night unanimously adopted the $202 million spending plan, which comes with an over 4 percent increase in the district’s general fund and a 1.4 percent cut to the local tax levy – the total amount the district collects in local property taxes.
The spending plan, which boosts academic programs and student services by about $4.8 million, comes with over 60 new staff positions, including over 30 new teacher spots, new administrators and handful of other positions. Voters will be asked to approve the budget at the May 21 school elections.
The new teachers will in part help intensify instruction in math and literacy, helping to lower student-to-teacher ratios for lessons in those core subjects. At the high school level, six new teachers across six subject areas will allow the district to expand course offerings in a bid to give students a chance to take elective classes they find interesting and engaging and to fill gaps in student schedules.
Another core piece of the district’s budget expansion is focused on bolstering the district’s so-called general education continuum – an increasingly-intense spectrum of services offered to at-risk students who do not qualify for special education services. The continuum of interventions include smaller classes and case managers who focus on supporting struggling students.
The budget also envisions supporting a new teacher education effort to position teacher interns from various teacher college programs in Schenectady classrooms for two-year stints, working closely with experienced classroom teachers – about a dozen teacher interns are included in the budget.
Districtwide investments will create a new position focused on supporting new teachers throughout the school year, expand a new crisis prevention and response team and bring on board new maintenance specialists. Student supplies – like expensive graphing calculators and microscopes – and student field trips will also be supported under the adopted budget.
The district budget proposal comes after state lawmakers boosted Schenectady’s foundation aid – a core state education funding formula – by over $7 million, or over 7 percent, the largest increase of any district in the Capital Region.
However, Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring on Wednesday night pointed out that the district is still nearly $40 million short of what the state’s foundation aid calculates the district should receive in order to meet its student needs.
“It’s not like we are pretty close to be being fully funded,” Spring said as he noted the state budget was a move in the right direction. “That still is an awful lot of money and an awful lot of services our kids still need.”
The district budget plan weights new funding to its neediest schools, as determined by an internal ranking that accounts for schools’ test scores, poverty rates, student behavior, attendance, English language learners and more.
The schools determined to have the highest needs – Martin Luther King, Pleasant Valley and Yates elementary schools and Mont Pleasant Middle School – will see a funding increase of just over $400 per student. The schools determined to have the lowest needs – Woodlawn, Howe and Zoller elementary schools – will see a funding increase of $200 per student.
Van Corlaer Elementary School is set to see a $300-per-student funding boost, while the remaining schools – including the high school – will receive an increase of $340 per student, under the budget proposal.
District officials also trumpeted the 1.4 percent tax levy cut, which brings the levy to its lowest level in a decade and marks the fourth straight year of a levy reduction – a cut of around $2.7 million total in the past five years.
“While our budget has been going up for the past number of years, the tax levy has either stayed the same or has gone down… That’s certainly one of the highlights that we’ve been able to do both,” said Kimberly Lewis, the district’s business director.
When the budget goes up for approval next month, voters will also be asked to approve the $455,000 sale of the former Elmer Avenue Elementary School building, which has been out of use in recent years.
A local development firm, Capital District Real Estate Investment Team, has plans to convert the old school building into apartments. District officials suggested the proceeds of the sale would be set aside in reserves and help defray the local costs of capital projects planned over the coming years.
District officials have said the building was too expensive to renovate and repair. Spring said if the district were to overhaul the building for school use it would result in a capital project that would put “several millions of dollars on the (local) taxpayer.”