Capital Region school districts are starting to roll back academic programs as state funding cuts undermine reopening plans before schools even reopen.
Schenectady and Amsterdam school districts are both delaying the start of pre-kindergarten programs, while Albany and Lansingburgh districts announced drastic changes to reopening plans that limit in-person instruction to fewer students than originally envisioned.
In Schenectady, district officials this week notified families registered for the district’s pre-kindergarten program that classes were delayed until at least January due to uncertainty about whether the district would actually receive its allotted funding for the program. The program would have served nearly 300 students in classrooms across the distirct's elementary buildings.
“We don’t have the funds,” Schenectady district spokesperson Karen Corona said. “We didn’t receive confirmation that we would be getting the funding.”
The pre-kindergarten program in Amsterdam schools is also likely on hold until state funding comes through, Amsterdam Superintendent Rich Ruberti said Friday.
“We are looking at our options because of the lack of funding, and we haven’t received final notification of a guarantee of that,” Ruberti said. “My intention is to wait and to hopefully get funding.”
Both districts have scheduled special board meetings for Monday night: Amsterdam plans to discuss the pre-kindergarten issue, while Schenectady plans to discuss various scenarios related to state aid cuts. Schenectady also plans to rescind job offers the district had recently made in a bid to further constrain spending.
The suspension of the pre-kindergarten programs comes as district officials and education advocates across the state fear 20-percent state aid cuts foreshadowed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo will come to fruition without new federal stimulus. State payments to school districts since July have been reduced by 20 percent, and educators don’t know if that money will ever be reimbursed.
Meanwhile, school districts are taking on new costs as they stockpile cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment, purchase new technology for virtual programs and look to improve air filtration in aging buildings.
“They are being asked to provide safe, quality education that is more expensive to provide, and they are getting less money,” said Andrew Van Alstyne, director of education and research at the Association of School Business Officials. “School [reopening] plans that districts have put out there that were designed with all the stakeholder input ... those were designed to respond to COVID, not to respond to a mid-year aid cut.”
Some districts aren’t even getting to the starting line of implementing those plans before rethinking whether they will have the money to move forward with them.
Albany Superintendent Kaweeda Adams on Thursday and Friday outlined the district’s plan to pull back on its earlier reopening plan and to limit in-person instruction to elementary and certain special-need students, citing anticipated state aid cuts that could cost the district $20 million or more.
The plan would enroll all general education students in grades 7-12 in a fully-virtual instructional model, removing the option for any of those students to attend school in person.
The Lansingburgh Central School District on Thursday detailed plans to have all students in grades 3-12 participate in remote learning “until the district can return to its original reopening plan,” citing the potential of a 20 percent state aid cut.
“This financial burden, combined with around 40 percent of students opting for remote learning and staff members still conflicted about returning safely to school, makes it impossible for the district to open all of our schools for in-person instruction on Sept. 8,” Lansingburgh Superintendent Antonio Abitabile said in a message to families.
Both Albany and Lansingburgh, along with Amsterdam and Schenectady, receive a larger share of its total funding from the state than other, wealthier districts. Those districts, which serve more high-need students, will be the hardest hit by across-the-board funding cuts to state aid.
Michael Rebell, an attorney representing families suing the state over alleged inadequate school funding in districts, including Schenectady, this week suggested attorneys would file for an injunction against 20 percent state aid cuts.
He said more aid cuts would come for districts funded at an “already inadequate level,” citing landmark state court rulings that guaranteed all students in the state a “sound basic education,” and argued the financial strain facing the state did not forgive the state of its duty to school children.
“That constitutional right doesn’t go on hold because there are financial constraints, because the state is having financial difficulties,” he said during a press conference earlier in the week. “The bottom line is our kids should not suffer, and the cannot suffer.”