A 20 percent reduction in aid to school districts tied to the pandemic is having a significant impact on New York districts that rely heavily on state funding. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports on “catastrophic” cuts on the table in Schenectady.
The Schenectady City School District serves about 10,000 students, and its budget is dependent on a significant amount of government aid – about 69 percent.
As the impacts of the pandemic force New York state into a fiscal spiral, Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed 20 percent across-the-board cuts in aids to schools.
For Schenectady, that’s more than $28 million. And things could get worse if the federal government does not pass a bill that would provide aid to state governments.
Interim superintendent Aaron Bochniak called the cuts “horrifying.” He delivered a presentation to the public and school board members Wednesday night.
“And at the end of the day, the people who are going to be most affected by this are going to be our kids, and our parents, and our residents of the city,” said Bochniak.
As of Wednesday night’s meeting, the district had come up with $27.6 million in reductions, most from staff layoffs and reductions – more than 400 positions, including around 90 teachers and 270 paraprofessionals, plus other staff.
Though the cuts are almost a million dollars short of the reduction in aid, Bochniak said the district cannot cut any further.
“We should be going deeper, probably. We really can’t. We’re pushing as deep as we can.”
The first day of school is set for Monday, September 14th. But the new cuts mean many will not be returning to school grounds — the district is now planning to move to online-only instruction for grades 7 to 12.
Staff was to return September 8th. Meetings are continuing as administrators scramble to figure out who will keep their jobs, said Juliet Benaquisto, President of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers. She used the words “turmoil” and “chaos” to describe what’s happening behind the scenes.
“Teachers don’t have their assignments, teachers don’t know if they have a job. Many of our paraprofessionals don’t have a job, won’t have a job. The ones that will have a position don’t know where they will be working,” said Benaquisto.
Benaquisto, who was expecting to have further dialogue with the district after her interview with WAMC, said it’s hard to get answers – though she said she doesn’t believe the district is withholding information.
“And as teachers and our paraprofessionals that will be left, we’ll do our best for our students but we don’t feel like we’re being set up to do our best right now,” said Benaquisto.
The district, on its website, said things remain “fluid” and that all families of students will be receiving more information in a mailing.
Advocacy groups have criticized the 20 percent school funding cut under Governor Cuomo, whose administration says the state faces a more than $14 billion deficit this year due to the coronavirus crisis.
On Tuesday, the Alliance for Quality Education published a report detailing how the cuts will disproportionately affect Black and Brown students.
Democratic Capital Region Congressman Paul Tonko scheduled a press conference for Friday with local union leaders, school administrators, and others to highlight the need for federal aid to New York schools.
The HEROES Act, which would provide more than $1 billion to Capital Region local governments, passed the House in May. The Republican-led Senate introduced the HEALS Act in July, though the two houses have yet to agree on a relief bill.