For many students in New York, today was the first day of the new school year. As WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports, Schenectady’s public school district is celebrating a big increase in state aid over last year.
The Schenectady City School District is the recipient of a $15 million increase in state aid this year and a $7.5 million hike in Foundation Aid.
Republican State Senator Jim Tedisco, who advocated for the tweaks in the Foundation Aid formula in the state budget, appeared outside Mont Pleasant Middle School Thursday morning with Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring.
“And the first thing I have to do is…I didn’t graduate from Mont Pleasant, or Linton, or Schenectady High School but I have to thank this school because I had to go to summer school here for geometry,” joked Tedisco. “And I don’t think I would have graduated unless I got past that course in geometry when I was back in high school.”
The increase in funding has helped the district add new programs — and cut the school tax levy by 2 percent for city residents.
Tedisco, who worked as a special education teacher and guidance counselor before his legislative career, arrived with an oversized check amounting to $50,000 in so-called “bullet-aid.”
“I can’t think of a better day to do this than on the first day of school,” said Tedisco. “And to make it an even more happier day, this is $50,000 for the City of Schenectady for the education of our kids.”
Superintendent Spring said the extra aid will help the district’s Trauma Sensitive Schools initiative.
“A way for us to help every single school change their climate in such a way to be more responsive to students who are dealing with complex trauma in their lives that makes it difficult to them to just cope in a way that we hope kids would be able to cope with stress and be successful in school,” said Spring.
Spring said the district, thanks to the increase in state and Foundation Aid, was able to hire an additional 66 staff members.
The district is implementing programs to help students in crisis, including a mobile crisis response team.
Social and emotional support is being added for students who need counseling. Academic support is being bolstered for students who are falling behind in their classes.
Spring said remedial services will be provided to struggling general education students.
“They’re not reading at a level they’re supposed to, or they’re not successful or engaging in school at a degree that they need to pass and graduate as they should, and so we’ve put a lot of supports in place to make sure those students don’t fall through the cracks or fall too far behind,” said Spring.
A majority of students in the Schenectady school district are minorities. In 2016, only 65 percent of high school students graduated. Though that number was up from 58 percent the year before, by comparison, the average graduation rate in the state is 80 percent.
Tedisco said funding “is necessary at the appropriate level” for all districts and their needs.
“I think we need full Foundation funding for education, the one that the courts have mandated and dictated. We did make some adjustments in the formula, which helps the high-need-low-wealth districts. And look, I want parity. I want fairness in all the schools,” said Tedisco.
Though the most recent state budget included the elimination of the so-called Gap Elimination Adjustment, which pulled school aid in order to round out the budget during the height of the Great Recession, advocates say public schools in New York are still owed billions in Foundation Aid.