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Syracuse lawmakers challenge budget proposal from city school district

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News (file photo)

Budget hearings in Syracuse took an unexpected turn Wednesday, as the Syracuse City School District requested more money than expected.

Syracuse Common Councilor Pat Hogan said he was surprised when officials asked for $7.5 million more than the original budget the district adopted.

"We know what we both face,” he said. “You want to educate your kids, and we want to keep the city running. And that's something that's a burden on us. This is something in my long tenure with the city I haven't seen before."

The district’s chief financial officer Mike Puntschenko said when their budget was put together, district officials didn’t know the city’s proposed budget would include a 2% property tax increase.

"Once the Board of Education was made aware that there was going to be a rate increase, they requested that the school district receive some of that increase,” he said.

Superintendent Anthony Davis said additional money is needed to make salaries more competitive in an effort to help the district recruit and retain staff. He also said while enrollment is decreasing, student needs are growing in the wake of the pandemic.

“As you know, throughout the city what we're dealing with, we're dealing with those same issues in schools, as part of that continuation of behaviors,” Davis said. “(Student) needs are much higher, so our mental health costs are going to be much larger than they have been in the past."

Syracuse Common Councilor Rasheada Caldwell said she supports the district and its mission, but the council also has to look at the bigger picture.

"It's not like intentionally we're going after (the district), or we don't want to give to the schools,” she said. “We want to give to schools. We want to give to the DPW. We want to give to Fire. We want to give all our departments, our codes, everyone more money, but you can't get something we don't have."

Councilors said they will meet to discuss the district’s concerns and requests before their final budget vote on May 8.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.