Massive COVID-19 aid cuts lead to proposed reductions

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Faced with a budget shortfall that could range as high as $26 million due to state and federal aid reductions related to the COVID-19 crisis, the City School District of Albany is proposing to change instructional options for students in grades 6-12 and restructure two programs for the 2020-21 school year. 

Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams presented the difficult financial update and proposed changes during Thursday night’s Board of Education meeting

The district learned last week that, with no federal COVID-19 relief since the state’s fiscal year began in April, the New York State Division of the Budget has begun withholding 20% of most local aid payments. The district also is faced with additional federal aid reductions related to COVID-19. 

“For our district, we anticipate that the total impact of these aid reductions due to COVID-19 will be between $18.8 million and $25.6 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year,” Adams said. 

The board plans to schedule a meeting next week to finalize any decisions for the upcoming school year after allowing an opportunity for feedback from employees, students and families. 

Because of the deep anticipated reductions in aid, the district has proposed the following programmatic changes for the new school year:

  • All general education students in grades 7-12 would enroll in a fully virtual instructional model. No in-person or hybrid option would be available for general education students at the secondary level.
  • All students in grade 6 would attend in-person five days a week unless a family chooses the fully virtual instructional model. All sixth-graders will be enrolled in a middle school learning model, whether in-person or virtual. Those students selecting in-person instruction would be assigned based on the district’s current feeder patterns:
    • North Albany Middle School sixth-graders would remain at North Albany
    • Stephen and Harriet Myers Middle school would serve its assigned sixth-graders, plus sixth-graders from Albany School of Humanities (ASH) and Giffen Memorial Elementary School.
    • William S. Hackett Middle School would serve its assigned sixth-graders, plus sixth-graders from Eagle Point Elementary School and Thomas O’Brien Academy of Science and Technology (TOAST)
    • Schools will be calling all sixth-grade families beginning Friday to explain these proposed changes and give families an opportunity to change any enrollment choice options if they would like, pending the board’s final decisions next week. 
  • Elementary students from prekindergarten through grade 5 would continue as planned – five days in-person or five days virtual, per each family’s choice.
    • The one change for elementary students would be that, because of the large number of families selecting the fully virtual model through the enrollment choice options (53% district-wide), the district is planning for all PK-5 students to remain in their school building.
  • There would be no change to self-contained special education students K-12, who would attend school in-person five days a week as initially designed in the district’s 2020-21 Reopening Plan. 

The district also would restructure or suspend the Albany International Center and Tony Clement Center for Education programs for 2020-21. Students from these programs would become part of the general student body:

  • AIC and Clement students in grades 7-12 students would enroll in a fully virtual model
  • AIC students in grade 6 could choose the fully virtual model, or the fully in-person model. Families selecting the in-person model would enroll at one of the three middle schools listed above based on their home address. Staff also would reach out to AIC families beginning Friday to discuss these options.

The district is continuing to evaluate all programs and staffing district-wide to identify additional reductions. More information will be provided as it is available, Adams said. 

The state Division of Budget has indicated that more information about the state’s fiscal position, and potential impact on schools statewide, will be available in September. DOB’s FY 2021 First Quarterly State Budget Financial Plan Update indicates that, without unrestricted federal aid, it will continue to withhold aid payments through September. 

Governor Cuomo also has indicated that the state will conduct its final revenue assessment of the current fiscal year by Dec. 31 to further evaluate the fiscal impact of COVID-19.