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From the Superintendent -- Weighing Albany High's future

Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, Ph.D., wrote the following op-ed for the Times Union. The newspaper published it Oct. 27, 2015. Click here to download the piece in .pdf format.

 

As we get close to the Nov. 3 decision on the future of Albany High School, I would like to address questions community members have asked as they consider the proposal.

 

The decision facing Albany voters is not whether to invest in a new high school or to invest in more staff. State regulations are clear about this – aid and funding for facilities cannot be diverted to staff.

 

Additionally, even if we had the resources to add new staff at Albany High today, we have no rooms left to put them in.

 

With nearly 2,500 students, Albany High’s enrollment has grown by more than 19 percent since its low point in 2012-13. It has grown by about 200 students since June.

 

When we needed more classrooms for the current school year, we had to create them at Albany High’s Abrookin Career and Technical Center three blocks away. That requires even more of our students to cross busy Washington Avenue to get to class – precisely one of the problems we are proposing to remedy.

 

With more than 25 percent enrollment growth in our elementary and middle schools since 2008, and 3,000 or more students anticipated at Albany High in the years to come, we already know we must expand Albany High to meet our community’s future needs.

 

Our plan for Albany High is driven primarily by that growing student population and our need to design and deliver the programs and services they will need to succeed. Not, as some have suggested, by an impulsive wish for a shiny new building.

 

These pressing space needs – combined with the need to update and repair the school, address persistent safety concerns, eliminate the three-block walk to Abrookin and completely redo the current academic building – are at the heart of our proposed investment.

 

The approximately $123.5 million the state would give our community toward the new high school – 63 percent of the total cost – also can be spent only on constructing new facilities to serve those future students.

 

If the proposal is not approved Nov. 3, that $123.5 million would go to other school districts for their facilities projects.

 

The City School District of Albany – and our city – once again would be left empty-handed on our fair share of state aid to make the investments we believe are critical not only to the long-term health of our public schools, but our community as well.

 

The inequitable financial burden the state places on its capital city will continue.

 

We already face the reality that 60 percent of the property in Albany is not taxable.

 

Our school district is required to send tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to charter schools each year with no local accountability. We’re at about a third of a billion dollars and counting on the charter experiment.

 

Every year we face the grim fact that the state provides our schools with about 38 percent of the funds we need to operate annually. Buffalo’s schools receive 83 percent. Rochester’s receive 78 percent. Syracuse’s receives 75 percent.

 

The worthy and necessary investments in additional staff to support all of our students for which many advocate – including me – are funded through our annual operating budget, not capital project funds.

 

Each year, we face the challenge of balancing the programs and staff our students need and deserve with what our community can afford.

 

For the past five years, the district’s annual tax-levy increase has averaged just over 1 percent. In 2011 and this year, school taxes went down for Albany homeowners. Last year, they went down for business owners.

 

Meanwhile, the high school proposal would cost the average Albany homeowner 12 cents a day with Basic STAR ($42 a year), and 8 cents a day with Enhanced STAR for seniors ($30 a year).

 

That is the additional cost of investing in the future of Albany High.

 

Albany voters face a critical decision Nov. 3. We encourage everyone to make that decision based on accurate facts.

Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, Ph.D.

Superintendent

 

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