State funding secured, school districts now talk reinstating teachers

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Finally, after months of waiting, New York school districts just got the good news they’ve been hoping for. The New York State Education Department confirms in a post that its portion of financial aid will not be cut to districts in the future. Plus, any amounts already taken from monthly allowances for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years will be reimbursed by March.

Schenectady City School District Interim Superintendent Aaron Bochniak says it’s better than he ever expected.

“It’s absolutely a sigh of relief, especially because there was a lot of uncertainty around how much or how deep the withholdings might be. Each month, we were a little unsure,” Bochniak says to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

He says now, his school district can fast track their plan to reinstate some of the 420 staff laid off throughout the pandemic. His best case scenario will have calls out to his former staff based on seniority by next week, and to welcome them back by March 1. Bochniak says first though, a survey just launched Thursday to get parent input.

“It’s very difficult midyear to change student schedules,” Bochniak explains.

He says parents will get another chance to decide if they want kids learning in-person or at home. He says some teachers will co-teach to help make virtual classrooms smaller, but others will be in schools to offer both in person and online students support.

“We can provide some adult supervision for them, access to Internet, we can also layer in some additional wraparound supports like academic intervention and tutoring,” Bochniak says.

The Schenectady Federation of Teachers had this statement to offer:

The SFT is thrilled to see the addition of programming that will provide very necessary support for our students. The totality of members laid off left a huge hole in our students’ academic lives and it is of course our desire to see every one of these folks recalled to enhance instruction and improve the well being of our kids. It can’t be minimalized how impactful this pandemic has been on our entire school community. The fact that on top of the pandemic our students have gone without the influence and impact of working with so many paraprofessionals, teachers, social workers and others integral in the education community, cannot be minimalized.  Our laid off members are eager and anxious to return to our school system and are ready and willing to return to the important work of supporting our kids.  Our students and families have come to count on these educators and to be able to restore services to our students is what really matters! 

Over in the City School District of Albany, around 200 teachers were laid off while the district prepared to possibly lose 20% of state funding. Superintendent Kaweeda Adams says since November, the district already had a phased approach to getting students back in school in cohorts so they could take advantage of creative services and computers they might not have access to at home.

She adds since receiving the news state funding will not be cut, the district is considering phasing in grades 7-12 students who have been entirely virtual.

“There are things we still need to carefully consider, such as social distancing and CDC guidelines on the number of people we can have in a building and the space we have,” Adams says.

Each school submitted a plan to the district on how they would like to phase teachers back in, but she says they believe the process still needs to go slowly to be sustainable, so there is no prospective date yet on when teachers will be invited back.

“We still have to make sure that we are conservative, because what we don’t want to do is bring people back and then in the next few months, another layoff,” Adams explains.

She and Bochniak say they’re eager to use the state’s good news to deliver some good news of their own.

“I think it’s optimistic. The word for me is optimistic and possibilities,” Adams says.

“Of course it’s nice to be able to give good news, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say these are things that the kids should have really had all along,” says Bochniak.

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