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Utica City School District discusses layoffs to help balance budget

Gino Geruntino
The Utica City School District is looking at another year of layoffs, though the final budget has not been completed.

For the fourth straight year, the Utica City School District is facing a deficit, causing the school board to consider layoffs. School Business Official Maureen Albanese says right now the district, which is among the state's poorest, is having trouble balancing its nearly $146 million budget.

"We had a $3.8 million deficit in the general fund, and we're looking at a $2.6 [million] deficit in our federal grants, which brought our total budget deficit to $6.4 million," Albanese said.

Albanese says the preliminary February budget called for more than 90 personnel cuts, including teachers and administrators.

"With every teacher cut, it means class sizes go up," Albanese explained. "And we have a very diverse population in Utica, high needs students, immigrant and refugee students. Depending, the class sizes the more they go up, we were looking this year at around 30, 32, 33 students in a class, which definitely hurts the students. It hurts the district and the community too, with all these layoffs."

She also cites the opening of the charter school, Utica Academy of Science, as an additional strain on an already tight budget.

"Last year they opened and it was almost a $2 million drain on our budget, because we had to pay $1.6 million for tuition and then we had to re-route buses, so that was another $150,000," Albanese said. "And we had to supply a school nurse to them and some nursing supplies. So, all together, it was close to $2 million."

Albanese says the charter school is adding a grade in the fall. Currently it teaches students in grades 6-9 but will teach 6-10 grades next academic year, and eventually plans to become a 6-12 school.

She says although the school district didn't use any of its fund balance last year, in the three years prior it spent approximately $12-13 million from the fund balance to keep as many staff members on as possible.

She also says the district knows people living in Utica are having a difficult time keeping up with an increase in school taxes.

"We are raising taxes like 1.25 percent," Albanese said. "I mean the people know the city is raising taxes 8-something [percent] possibly, so you know the people cannot afford it anymore. Only 39 percent of the people in Utica pay taxes anyway, the others are all exempt properties."

Albanese says the current numbers aren't set in stone and will change before the final budget is approved by the April 25 deadline.