The Rome City School District will start paying for elementary students’ school supplies in the fall.
The New Hartford Central School District is adding Makerspaces to its elementary and junior high libraries to encourage creative learning and problem solving related to science, technology, engineering, art and math.
And the Remsen Central School district will get a new elementary principal.
It’s school budget season and area districts have either recently passed or soon will pass their budgets for the 2018-19 school year. Based on local budgets that have passed so far, parents and students shouldn’t expect too many big changes. The budgets contain few layoffs, few new hires, and no major program cuts or major additions.
Part of the credit goes to the state, which increased educational spending by 3.4 percent in a tight fiscal year. That’s more than the governor originally proposed but less than the $2 billion many advocates had hoped for, said Al Marlin, communications manager for the New York State School Boards Association.
So now it’s up to individual districts to make tough choices and create a budget “that’s going to be balanced, that’s going to give the best education to the student and also the best resources to the teachers and also the administration,” he said.
“It’s a balancing act and I think that’s going to be the case each year, weighing special programming, weighing sports programming, weighing salaries,” Marlin added. “Everything goes into that pot. We hope, as an association, at the end of the day, no matter what the trends are, the outcome is what’s the best program we’re going to be able to provide in education for the students across the state.”
Taxpayers in Rome and Utica won’t see any increases. Other districts have passed increases of between 1 and 4 percent, but all under the tax levy cap.
Voters will have the chance to approve or disapprove their local school budgets Tuesday, May 15. Last year, 99.3 percent of district budgets passed and 98.5 percent passed the previous year, Marlin said.
Utica in 'decent shape'
Utica originally projected an almost $1.1 million budget deficit. Business officials had said cutting 19 positions would cover the deficit, but school board members expressed dismay over the idea of more layoffs.
“We went to Albany. We lobbied. We lobbied very hard,” said Superintendent Bruce Karam.
The district received another $1.5 million, which eliminated the deficit. The board is expected to vote on the budget on Tuesday.
“We’re in decent, I’m not going to say good, we’re in decent shape,” he said. “We didn’t have to lay anyone off or cut any programs.”
Karam recalled his first budget as superintendent when the district faced a $6 million deficit and a fund balance depleted by the last superintendent, forcing it to lay off more than 300 staff members, slashing its administration and leading to overly large classes. Although this year’s budget didn’t force more cuts, the district continues to hope for more equitable state aid that will allow it to hire back many of its teachers as well as administrators, Karam said.
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Changes in Rome district
In Rome, the budget relies on attrition to cut some staff positions. It also ends summer school and reduces some other BOCES services, although the district hopes to use online learning and credit recovery programs to help students who need to pass failed classes, said Superintendent Peter Blake.
The budget also adds school security officers from local law enforcement agencies who will patrol the elementary schools as well as the plan to purchase elementary school supplies, Blake said. The latter program arose from a reorganization plan last summer that left parents guessing which school their children would attend and which supplies they should purchase, he said.
Every year, rising costs for health insurance and retirement plans create the biggest budget challenges, as well as “underfunded” state mandates, which hit larger districts disproportionately hard, Blake said. As for state aid, Blake wants a fairer distribution formula.
“I’m not upset necessarily with the number that we got," he said. "Anything is better than nothing. But I am upset with the way the money seems to be parceled out to the different districts.”
New Hartford avoids disaster
New Hartford almost faced budget disaster as an aftermath of court judgments requiring it to pay a tax refund of $2.3 million to Sangertown Square last year following an even bigger refund a few years ago. Local legislators stepped in, though, and got the district a $3 million state grant as well as an increase in foundation aid.
So the budget now adds new instructional materials and supplies for art, music, health and physical education classes and libraries. It also adds several science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics programs — including Math for Coding in the high school and a pilot Project Lead the Way in the elementary school that integrates science and engineering — as well as funding for school safety.
Other school districts
• The Adirondack Central School District is eliminating positions in math, French, speech and ELA through attrition, and adding a social worker/counselor and director of transportation.
• Herkimer Central School District will restore its business/computer science programming program and add another section of pre-kindergarten.
• The Holland Patent Central School District budget reduces pre-kindergarten classes to one, adds a primary early intervention position and cuts a part-time cleaner and a teacher assistant.
• The Mount Markham Central School District will gain an elementary teaching assistant and more counseling. It also continues the agriculture education program and district chapter of the FFA re-started during the current school year after a three-decade hiatus.
• The New York Mills Union Free School District budget starts a one-to-one computer initiative at the secondary level.
• The Remsen Central School District will gain an elementary principal and four more slots in its pre-kindergarten program, bringing the total to 22.
• The budget for the Sauquoit Valley Central School District includes another elementary teacher, a special patrol officer and the purchase of two buses.
Contact reporter Amy Neff Roth at 315-792-5166 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Roth).