School budget hits staff, keeps sports

$160M plan with 5 percent tax hike goes to voters May 19

Thursday, April 9, 2009
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— The strings program and district athletic programs were all preserved in a tentative 2009-10 budget the Board of Education agreed to Wednesday.

The proposed budget comes to roughly $160 million and would result in a tax increase of about 4.9 percent. The proposal uses roughly $3 million from its surplus accounts — $1 million to cover the programs it wants to add back to the budget and $2 million to limit the tax rate.

“Not low enough, but probably the best we can do, given the circumstances that we’re in,” said Board President Jeff Janiszewski. The district is facing the dilemma of rising costs and flat state aid.

Board members also restored some of the positions that Superintendent Eric Ely had recommended cutting. Still, the revised budget would eliminate 17 elementary and secondary teachers, 30 paraprofessionals, four secretaries, seven elementary librarians and five administrators. It would also eliminate the high school family and consumer science program, reorganize the district business office, reduce operations and maintenance funding by $60,000, and eliminate two business education positions.

Ely had previously proposed eliminating 14 elementary teachers, 20 secondary teachers, 30 paraprofessionals and a variety of administrative staff. He also proposed to eliminate all modified sports, close the pool and aquatics program, eliminate the elementary library program, high school family and consumer science programs, the district strings program and eight business education positions.

Board members did not like those cuts and a couple dozen members of the public showed up at Tuesday’s budget work session to protest them. Janiszewski said their view is that programs such as the arts and the International Baccalaureate program are the only things keeping the middle class in Schenectady.

On Wednesday, Ely presented some good news. The state Comptroller’s Office estimated that district revenues outside of state aid — which includes fees and payments in lieu of taxes — would increase by about $643,000. Also, the state has given districts some flexibility in spending Contract for Excellence money that it receives as a high needs district. It can roll over roughly $1 million from the current year.

Ely used these new revenue numbers to put back the strings program and restore six of the eight business education positions. He also put back half of the 34 teacher positions targeted for cuts. The swimming pool and athletics program will also return.

The board also restored the attendance dean and the two middle school deans, and $300,000 used on strategic planning. This is money that is allocated to building principals and the superintendent’s office that can be spent on projects not covered under another item.

The board also restored the $60,000-a-year director of security. “If parents don’t feel their children are safe in school the rest doesn’t matter,”

In addition, Ely proposes to eliminate the elementary librarian positions and create positions called “literacy specialists” that would help students use the libraries to improve their reading and writing. The change in job title would mean the program could be funded with federal grant money.

Vice President John Mitchell said at least the district has more surplus — roughly $3 million — it can draw upon next year if needed.

“We are in a much better position right now than what we could be.”

The Board of Education will meet again on April 20 to make final changes to the budget, which will go before voters on May 19.

 

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