school district struggles with the governor’s proposed budget
At least three dozen teachers in the Albany Public Schools
will lose their jobs come June, the first wave of 99 positions
to be eliminated in the district next year in the face of
a statewide budget crisis that Superintendent Raymond Colucciello
calls a “catastrophe” for public education.
always said, ‘We don’t have ample resources,’ but this time
we really mean it,” Colucciello said as he geared up for the
May 18 vote on the school budget after a final public forum
on the $203 million proposal. “I said to the board, ‘When
we get through this, we will know what we value.’ ”
Gov. David Paterson has proposed statewide funding cuts of
more than $1.7 billion to public schools to close New York’s
budget gap, and Albany schools would be cut by $6.7 million
under that plan. With no state budget in sight, the school
district has to go with what it knows, and the resulting Albany
schools budget proposal is a painful exercise in snipping
a little here and shaving a little there so as to preserve
as many of the existing programs and services as possible.
The result: The school system is operating with considerably
less money than it is used to. This year’s budget proposal
is $1 million less than the previous year, and $4 million
less than two years ago.
Going: at least 36 teachers, a number that may increase as
school system administrators calculate the number of year-end
retirements against the need to cut 99 positions in the 2010-2011
school year. The 99 positions do not mean that 99 people total
will lose jobs; attrition and retirements may cover several
dozen of those cuts.
educational program in this district is going to come through
relatively intact,” said School Board President Dan Egan.
“A lot of people had to lose their jobs, and that’s a tragedy.”
The layoffs are the main reason that the Albany Public Schools
Teachers’ Association has opted not to publicly support the
budget proposal, said union president Cathy Corbo. The local
is encouraging people to exercise their right to vote and
has sent postcards to that effect to all members of its statewide
affiliate, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), who live
never publicly opposed a budget,” said Corbo, whose local
represents 860 school system employees. “This one—it was very
difficult for our members. We’re losing a lot of people.”
Also going: Latin language instruction; pre-kindergarten art,
music and physical education instruction; and pre-kindergarten
transportation to the magnet schools. Band music will begin
in fourth grade instead of third, and librarians will be reduced
Staying: reading teachers and literacy and math coaches; full-day
pre-kindergarten; after-school and extended-day programs;
summer school, which is often one of the first targets in
budget cuts; and school-based health centers at Giffen Memorial
Elementary School, Philip J. Schuyler Achievement Academy
and Sheridan Preparatory Academy.
The budget juggling act also extends to the school tax levy,
which this year is projected to be $107 million. That’s an
increase of 3.87 percent. For the owner of a house assessed
at $100,000, with the state’s School Tax Relief Program (STAR)
reduction, that will mean an estimated school tax bill of
$1,272 and a $79 increase over this year.
Shaving the budget even further to get the tax levy increase
below 3 percent would have meant more job cuts, Colucciello
said—a move the district was unwilling to make. If the Legislature
restores any of Paterson’s proposed cuts to K-12—which the
Assembly has pledged to do, but not the Senate—then the school
district in turn has pledged to use the first $1 million of
restored funds to reducing the tax levy.
If voters reject the budget, the district can offer it for
a second vote, or it can go directly to a “contingency budget”—which
would be only $469,000 less than the district’s proposal.
After a round of public forums on the budget, Egan is cautiously
optimistic that Albany voters will realize how tough this
year has been.
do think this is the best possible budget we could get to,”
he said. “The economy worldwide has not been this bad since
the Great Depression. So the fact that we’re even coming through
this with a relatively whole district is a miracle.”
The district held its last forum on the budget at last week’s
school board meeting, and the mood of the packed meeting room
was supportive. Alex Streznewski, co-president of the Albany
City Council PTA, stood to urge voters to support the budget,
as did Marlon Anderson, a West Hill resident who regularly
attends school board meetings and often comments on public
understand the need for the cuts,” Streznewski said. “We feel
the Legislature has failed to provide for our children.”
After the meeting, Anderson said that one of the reasons he
could support the budget, despite the painful cuts, was because
of the way that the district presented it to residents. The
even-handed, open and empathetic tone that district struck
in explaining the cuts should encourage voters to meet the
board and superintendent halfway on the budget, Anderson said.
“I predict it will go through on the first vote.”
school district will schedule last-minute forums on the budget
for churches and community groups up to the May 18 vote. To
schedule a forum, please call the superintendent’s office
failing to convince his colleagues on the Common Council that
they should take up his cause and pass legislation banning
the use of exotic animals for entertainment in Albany, freshman
Councilman Anton Konev (left) took to the streets to protest
the animal cruelty that he says is routine practice in circuses.
On Friday, he joined more than a dozen fellow animal-rights
activists in front the Times Union Center to try to spread
the word to the thousands of people visiting the Ringling
Bros. Circus that the animals are trained through years of
strict confinement and discipline, and with rough handling
that they argue constitutes abuse.
Good Friends Meet (To Help Each Other Out)
on Tess’ front window reads “Out of the ashes ‘Lark Tavern’
will rise again!” one week after a fire gutted the beloved
Madison Avenue restaurant, watering hole, and performance
venue. Around 4 AM last Thursday, firefighters responded to
a report of smoke and flames emanating from the kitchen and
were able to extinguish the blaze without it causing any injuries
to tavern staff and before it could cause significant structural
damage to the 1877 building. Still, the back dining room was
destroyed and the front barroom suffered smoke and water damage,
which will keep the Center Square institution shuttered for
at least four months. The cause of the fire has yet to be
then, the Lark Street community has quickly rallied to proprietor
Tess Collins’ side. Business owners have accomodated her request
to find shifts for her approximately 30 out-of-work employees.
As of Wednesday, the Lark Tavern Fire Fund, initiated by Bombers
and Wolff’s Biergarten owner Matt Baumgartner, had raised
more than $21,000 to allay the costs of reconstruction. And
a fleet of benefit events have been scheduled for the coming
potentially complicating factor in the future of the tavern
is that Collins, who owns the Lark Tavern business, does not
own the building.)
22, the Washington Park Lakehouse will be the venue for Rockin’
to Rebuild, a concert and silent auction organized by Jasen
Von Guiness of the Albany Society for the Advancement of Philanthropy.
Afterward, there will be an art auction at the Marketplace
Gallery, organized by Samson Contompasis, whose gallery suffered
a similar fate last year only to rebuild with community support.
On May 24, Poets Speak Loud, the long-running Lark Tavern
poetry open mic, will move to Valentine’s for a special benefit
evening. And on June 10, Michael Eck is organizing A Night
at Tess’ Lark Tavern, a benefit concert at WAMC’s Linda Norris
Auditorium, featuring the tavern’s “house bands” Jim Gaudet
and the Railroad Boys, Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble, MotherJudge
and “The Best Damn Open Mic Ever!” Band, and the Ramblin’
Jug Stompers featuring special guest Bryan Thomas.
loose ends this week-