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Upcoming chance for community, parent input on Syracuse schools budget

A white poster with blue and green writing sits on a brick exterior wall.
Tarryn Mento
A "Say Yes to Syracuse" sign hangs on the brick exterior of the Syracuse City School District office building, March 15, 2023.

Parents of students in Syracuse city schools and the city's taxpayers have multiple options to weigh in on the district’s budget over the next month.  

Michael Puntschenko, the chief financial officer for the Syracuse City School District, said officials are hosting two public hearings and have developed an interactive online tool to better understand the district’s spending plan. The Balancing Act Tool allows users to manipulate district revenue and expense funds based on major categories like student learning, safety and technology.

“It's a way for us to look at the community feedback directly into the budget,” Puntschenko said. “We'll gather that data, and then we'll analyze that. Then we'll have discussions with the superintendent on the feedback that we've gotten from the community.”

Putschenko said the district’s preliminary budget is drafted from Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed state budget. He says one concern in her plan is that career and technical education, or CTE, programming is funded for students in 10th through 12th grades only. He said the district starts CTE in ninth grade and has even expanded some programming to middle school students. He hopes to see state funding in this area expanded.

“The new STEAM school coming up, our first cohort is going to be ninth graders,” he said. “And, as you know, with Micron coming, and some of the other organizations that are suppliers and ancillary businesses, CTE is going to be a very big project.”

He said CTE programming is critical to ensuring future jobs for students.

“The sooner we can provide them with the education and the base for some of these professions, we think it would really help the community,” he said.

Other concerns include restrictions Hochul set for high-impact tutoring, reporting requirements for pre-K enrollment and demands for caps on charter schools, which New York state lawmakers formally rejected Tuesday. Both the state Senate and Assembly called to remove the governor’s proposal that would have allowed an expansion of charters across the state, including more than 100 new charter schools to open in New York City.

For next school year, Syracuse’s budget proposes to hire 50 new teaching assistants, 22 new teachers and add 15 new positions in other areas.   

“For us, we have a number of students coming to school behind and a number who have special education needs,” Putschenko said. “We really have to make sure that we're addressing those needs, right at the beginning. That’s why we're adding those 50 TA positions. We have some vacancies, but you can't not plan for what you need. Because that's what we need. And that's what we're going forward with in this budget.”

Prior to the April 12 board meeting, community feedback will go to members of the Syracuse City School District Board of Education, who will adopt the budget. Syracuse’s mayor and Common Council will also have a chance to ask questions before approving it in the city's overall budget.

“The superintendent is very committed to being inclusive of the community and having the community involved,” Putschenko said. "Our hope is that we'll be able to get the information and the thoughts from the community and be able to address it in this next budget.”  

The first budget public presentation and hearing is set for March 22. Presenters include the chiefs of staff for curriculum instruction and student support. A second session with experts on a variety of areas will be held March 27. Both sessions begin at 4:30 p.m. and will be held at the Syracuse City School District board room at 725 Harrison St.  

Ashley Kang is a content producer for WAER 88.3 FM under Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. She supports the station with community-driven story ideas; planning of the monthly public affairs show; Syracuse Speak; and the launch of an education beat.