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Area schools face tough budget choices

New York schools have long had a reputation for being some of the best in the country, but the reality is that success comes with a price tag districts are now being asked to trim.

Gov. David Paterson released some preliminary budget proposals in November that would affect funding for programs from kindergarten to post-graduate levels. School districts are now scrambling to decide which programs are necessary and which ones will have to be put on the back burner until the recession wanes.

According to the governor's office, every district in the state will see some type of budget cut in 2009-2010, from 3 percent to 13 percent of the total budget. State universities and colleges are considering tuition hikes, which could affect a student's option of going away and living off campus.

Many area districts are reaching out to their communities early in the budgeting process to find out residents' education priorities.

Mohonasen Central School District created an online survey about those priorities. So far, according the district's communications department academics, those responding to the survey are saying they want to preserve electives and technology programs.

Like many districts across the state, we are bracing for a difficult budget year, Superintendent Kathleen Spring said. "We know that we will have to make some tough decisions, and before we do that we want to reach out to the community to hear their concerns."

Budget forums are a new part of the Mohonasen budget process. Each forum is scheduled to highlight a different aspect of the budget. Other districts are looking at similar forums as a way to gauge what the public is willing to stomach as far as cutbacks to their children's educations.

Local districts are also getting creative, with some looking at four-day weeks and consolidating buildings.

The Schenectady City School District extended its school day by a half-hour last year, and Superintendent Eric Ely said while a four-day week is probably not an option for them, consolidation is. The city is looking using a middle school building to merge Howe Magnet with its Central Park Middle School, creating a centralized kindergarten-through-eighth-grade building. The change would then save the district on energy and transportation costs.

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