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Dr. Mary Bassett resigns as New York state health commissioner

Schenectady School Board Emphasizes School Safety In Proposed Budget

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Area voters will be the next to weigh in after the Schenectady Board of Education unanimously adopted a more than $194 million school budget earlier this month.  The plan emphasizes school safety and support for struggling students.

The proposed budget includes $20,000 for Schenectady’s three middle schools and about $90,000 in district-wide funds to improve school safety.  Schenectady District Superintendent Larry Spring says the middle schools plan to use their funding for fairly minor projects such as door jams, replacing classroom windows and door glass with sturdier new glass and covering windows to reduce visibility from the outside. 

Spring says a committee of individuals with experience in safety will be created to allocate the $90,000 based on need. 

“Opposed to try and take something away from somewhere else or wait until the next budget cycle.  Something that we would want the group to be able to recognize they’ve got an amount of money in which they can operate.  You know really they could be saying we want to look at training or pieces of equipment or hardware or personnel.  Any or all of those things are fair game, for them,” says Spring.

Tim Kremer, Executive Director of the New York State School Boards Association, said in a recent WAMC interview that the state budget does not allocate enough money for certain safety measures.

“What you are seeing is a lot of emphasis being put on policies and procedures and planning.  A lot of community conversations.  Very deep conversations about hardening our schools, making sure they're almost like fortresses.  Whether or not we are going to have resource officers,” says Kremer.

Schenectady Board of Education President John Foley says the district is working to ensure student safety, even with what he calls a financial shortfall, by upgrading building security.

“You just can’t walk in and be inside, you have to walk through this vestibule and then state your reason for being there.  Upgrading capacities of servers, so you can add more cameras.  You know you have to have the IT infrastructure to do those kinds of things,” says Foley.

The Board also highlighted a 1 percent tax levy cut and more than $1 million in expanded student services.  The budget proposal would add 10 staff positions, including a half-dozen teachers dispersed across the district, and academic program investments. The investments include expanding the district’s general education continuum, which Spring says is key to helping students thrive.

“Students who don’t have a disability but need similar services can get an individualized plan.  Just like a student who has a disability, and they can get more intense help.  General ed teachers or special ed teachers who push into general ed classrooms and they’ve got a caseload of students who don’t have a disability but are struggling,” says Spring.

In addition, Schenectady High School plans to fund adjustments to administering the SAT in hopes of encouraging students to consider attending college while the district’s 11 elementary schools plan to expand school tutoring programs.

District officials also categorized schools into four groups based on need:  Green, orange, yellow and red. 

In a district of approximately 10,000 students speaking 30 different languages, Board President Foley says many factors were taken into consideration with the categorization of each school.

“The proficiency level of the students in those buildings, what the poverty rate is, reading proficiencies in particular, special education classification rates, how many students in those buildings were special ed. What level of behavior problems were being experienced, what was the attendance, how many kids had to stay back a year, how many kids were English as a new language students,” says Foley.

Kremer says a new mandate requires 75 school districts to create a per pupil budget report for each school building to receive state aid.

“A building level expense allocation plan that is submitted to the Division of Budget under the governor and the state Education Department, and both those agencies have to sign off on those reports in order for us to be eligible for our state aid increases,” says Kremer.

Howe, Woodlawn and Zoller elementary schools are among the district’s green schools and will receive no increased funding.

The four red schools – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Pleasant Valley elementary schools, Mont Pleasant Middle School and Schenectady High School – will receive almost $120 per student.

The district’s final eight schools that fall into the orange and yellow categories will receive up to $110 per student.

The budget proposal vote is May 15th