Schenectady school budget proposal slashes staff, programs
SCHENECTADY A third of the athletics department, the strings program and 167 teachers and staff could all be lost under the Schenectady City School District’s proposed 2009-10 budget.
Superintendent Eric Ely gave a grim presentation to the Board of Education on Wednesday. “I am begging you not to do these things. Find a way — for the kids,” he said.
Aid to the district in the state budget currently being discussed in Albany would remain flat. Maintaining existing programs would cost the district $11.7 million more than this year’s budget of $154 million. Ely’s proposed 2009-10 budget reduces the increase to $4.05 million, but even with the staff cuts and the smaller increase the budget still calls for a 10.2 percent tax increase.
Quoting Revolutionary War pamphleteer Thomas Paine, Ely said it is the “times that try men’s souls” and said these cuts would roll back the progress the district has made in reducing class size, offering remedial instruction and reducing negative student behavior.
Ely proposes to cut 14 elementary teachers and 20 secondary teachers, as well as five administrators and 30 paraprofessionals. He also would eliminate two middle school dean positions, one attendance dean and four school climate office positions, and he would leave a technology position vacant.
Ely proposes to eliminate all modified sports and close the pool and aquatics program. He would eliminate the elementary library program and high school family and consumer science programs.
Board President Jeff Janiszewski said the presentation was “very sobering,” but predicted getting dozens of calls from residents saying the cuts are not deep enough.
Greta Obach, who has a special needs child in eighth grade, said playing music has improved his social skills tremendously. “These are things you cannot get through math, science, English, history. These are only things you can get through being part of a group.”
Janiszewski said he did not want to cut arts funding. “Arts is not frill. I consider it core curriculum. The benefit to students involved in the arts has been shown over and over again,” he said.
Board member Lisa Russo said eliminating a strings program would be a tremendous setback, especially since the district has received a national award for its commitment to arts education.
There are some unknown variables in the budget. Ely said the district is waiting for final numbers on how much it will receive in special education and federal stimulus aid. It also wants to see if the state relaxes rules regarding how the district can spend Contract for Excellence money it receives as a district with high poverty and needs.
Also, Ely did not include any use of the district’s $6 million fund balance, or surplus, in his draft budget.
The board directed Ely to come back with options that involve tapping into that.
Janiszewski said that the district has to be cautious about depleting its reserves this year in case next year is worse.
The board will meet again on Tuesday and again on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Mont Pleasant Middle School to discuss the budget.