ScHENEcTady

Schools wish list stands at $5 million

District eyes more teachers

Picture

PETER R. BARBER/ GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Schenectady City School District Superintendant Larry Spring speaks in 2014.

Schenectady school officials have trimmed a massive wish list down to about $5 million in new spending priorities, centering on a general education continuum that mirrors the special education process, as they await a final state budget.

Taken as a whole, the priorities represent dozens of new teachers, three new middle school assistant principals, a capital project manager and an investment in ramping up the production of new district curriculum units.

Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring said he is optimistic final state aid number will position the district for at least some spending on new programs, calling $5 million in new spending on the rosier end of possible outcomes.

He said he doesn’t plan to propose a hike in the tax levy to accommodate new spending and hopes the state aid levels will allow the district to cut the tax levy – the total amount of local taxes the district collects..

“Do I feel really committed to lowering the tax levy this year? I do,” he said. “If things don’t pan out the way I anticipate and we are talking about cutting we will have to look at that.”

The areas of new spending outlined to the school board Wednesday night focused on establishing a formalized “general education continuum,” which would provide supports to students in need of more intensive attention but don’t qualify for special education services.

The new programming would range from “respite rooms,” where struggling students spend most of their day in a small class setting with a teacher and social worker devoted to that room and content specialists who rotate in and out of the room. The high school and Mont Pleasant Middle School each have a respite room now, and the spending plan envisions adding a new respite room at the high, middle and elementary school levels.

But those respite rooms can only serve about 40 students throughout the course of the year, so other supports would include hiring new teachers to oversee struggling students’ progress and to push into certain classes to work more closely with specific students. The plan presented to the board includes about $2.25 million in “general education continuum” spending, which covers about 27 new staff members, most of who would be teachers.

The priorities list also positions the district to expand training teachers over the summer in a new literacy plan and makes time for teachers to ramp up the push to write new curriculum units.

Nearly $300,000 of the plan is earmarked to expanding the district’s book collection – in both classrooms and book rooms shared among a handful of grade-level rooms – and implement a new digital library management system.

Another $300,000 would be focused on expanding electives at the high school, adding new music and dance teachers and creating time for students to take the PSAT.

Spring said officials are continuing to prioritize potential new spending. But ultimately it is up to state lawmakers to spell out how much money the district will have to add teachers, expand programs and cut spending. Earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested the state may have to be conservative in new education funding as massive federal cuts loom in the coming years.

“I still feel very confident we will be able to add; I don’t know if it will be as much as we had hoped,” Spring said.