Smaller school districts predict struggles with expected NYS budget cuts


CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Key members of the education community say they think it’s unlikely to hit the desks again this school year. May 15 is three weeks away, but they say that’s not enough time to plan every detail.

“If the governor says we’re going to have to do social distancing, we’re going to have to have people’s temperatures taken as they come in to schools, everyone’s going to have to wear a mask — all of these things are going to be changes to what we would normally see right? So they’re going to require planning time,” explains David Albert, Chief Communications Officer for the NYS School Boards Association.

New York districts also need to plan for serious budget cuts. The coronavirus health crisis may lead to up to 20 percent less funding for schools — a change compared to the 2008 recession and one smaller school districts will struggle most with.

“You’re talking about a catastrophic fiscal injury to fiscally challenged rural school districts who have just most recently recovered from this thing,” says David Little, Executive Director for the NYS Rural Schools Association.

For example, Mechanicville City School District is looking at losing at least $1.5 million.

“We are looking at cuts of 13 to 14 people, and in a $29-$30 million budget that’s significant, says Superintendent Bruce Potter.

Fewer positions, fewer teachers and programs could lead to devastating effects for students.

“This is all bad for schools, and it’s bad for students, because students don’t get those opportunities and they only have one opportunity to go through and get their education,”Albert says.

“We’ve seen tremendous increases in student mental health needs,” explains Little. “That comes from a variety of things such as anxiety over school shootings, the opioid crisis, and increased poverty rates. All of a sudden, you don’t have counselors, you don’t have social workers, you don’t have psychologists, because you’re trying to provide the state mandated minimum curriculum just to get a kid through school.”

In Mechanicville at least, Superintendent Potter says they are trying to learn from the sudden change to online learning. He says it has opened up the chance to offer more electives with fewer staff.

“Every future college graduate is going to take at least one online course while they’re in college. Well why not propeller them while they’re in high school? We are trying to make the best of our options that we have moving forward,” he says.

Potter also adds his administration is pursuing added retirement incentives to help minimize the impact of the job losses.

“We’re trying to have as many of those positions vacated through attrition, but even so, that’s still fewer faculty, fewer staff doing the work and providing programs to the students. So it’s not the best thing, but I’m confident we can still provide a comprehensive education to the students,” Potter says.

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