To the Editor:
There has been a great deal of comment on the Syracuse City School District budget for the 2004-2005 school year. As members of the Syracuse Board of Education, we believe we need to clarify some points for the public.
The Syracuse City School District educates a student population that contains many more students of poverty, students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency than the surrounding districts. All of these students require more resources in order to succeed. In addition, our infrastructure is very old, most of the buildings being between 70 and 100 years old. This requires more resources to upgrade and maintain our school buildings.
Despite this need for greater resources, the Syracuse City School District spends less per pupil than almost all of the other districts in Onondaga County. SCSD is third from the bottom. To put this in perspective, for every dollar the SCSD spends on its students, the amounts in surrounding schools range from 97 cents to $1.49. Just to get us to the average for the county, we would have had to spend $39.4 million more dollars in 2002-2003. If the SCSD spent the same amount per pupil as the highest-spending suburban school, our budget would have been $102 million more in 2002-2003. This is exactly the type of inequity for urban children that the Campaign for Fiscal Equity is attempting to address.
The district has been under a great deal of pressure to close one or more buildings. Understanding that we have lost a number of students in the last decade, what the public and the politicians need to understand is that:
The numbers of seats taken for pre-K in our own buildings as opposed to rental buildings have replaced some of those empty seats. This has saved us rental money, and furthers the sense of community in those buildings.
The SCSD has received a great deal of money in the form of grants that assist in class size reduction in grades K through 3. Closing schools would require us to increase those class sizes. The loss of the grant money would negate any savings in closing schools, resulting in much larger class sizes, and zero effect on the budget. This is educationally and fiscally unsound.
The tremendous increase in the number of special education students and English as a Second Language students has required our buildings to devote a number of classrooms for those programs. Consolidating buildings would cause a tremendous space squeeze for the programs serving those students.
We are embarking on a districtwide $600 million-dollar renovation project. This will create jobs in the city, renovate all of our buildings and, we believe, start a renaissance of the Syracuse City School District. During this time, we will need swing space to accommodate students as their buildings are being renovated.
The budget submitted to the mayor is a status quo budget. It contains no new initiatives, no new programs. It does contain a cut of approximately 40 positions, on top of a cut of 335 this fiscal year. Suggestions have been made that we cut our budget at this time to meet our known income. We have resisted doing so for the following reasons:
The state budget is the most tenuous it has been in years. Between the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, and the report of the governor's Zarb Commission, we have no idea how our budget will be affected.
The sales tax issue is still unsettled.
The actual cuts required to meet currently known revenue would be devastating to the district. The spectacle of laying off hundreds and hundreds of people, paying them unemployment over the summer, just to hire them back in the fall when the state budget is passed would be very destructive to the SCSD. We would prefer to have the dust settle, and with known revenue, realistically adjust our budget.
The heart of Onondaga County is the city of Syracuse, and the heart of Syracuse is the schools and neighborhoods. We would hope that the public and politicians within the city and the county recognize our needs and work with us in a collegial manner, rather than an adversarial one. Students in the Syracuse City School District are just as deserving of a sound education as any other child in Onondaga County.
Calvin Corriders, President
Cynthia Kirby, Vice President
Syracuse Board of Education