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Utica superintendent: 'perfect storm' of financial blows

By ANNA MEILER

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - School starts next week and the Utica School District is already dealing with a series of financial blows that the superintendent calls the perfect storm.

"On top of the economic conditions, it's like you're getting a 1, 2 and then a charter school and then the federal sequestration cuts, you're getting a 1, 2, 3, 4 punch all at the same time," said Bruce Karam, the superintendent of the Utica School District.

Following severe budget cuts, 85 positions were terminated last year, 49 of which were teachers. The year before, 150 positions were cut.  Karam said classrooms will feel the effects.

"We're going to see larger class sizes, we're going to see limited resources, so absolutely whenever you have financial cuts like that, that are that deep, they're going to have a dramatic effect on us," he said.

Also adding to the strain are the low test scores following the implementation of the new Common Core Curriculum. A high number of students tested below proficient, meaning they will require Academic Intervention Services, but Karam said they don't have the money to hire the additional staff needed for those students.

He's also pointing at the new Utica Academy of Science Charter School, opening for the first time next week.

"We're going to pay approximately $1.8 million to the new charter school. This includes the tuition for the students and the transportation expense that we have to assume, that is required by law. So, also provide a nurse. These things all add up and it comes at a time which is a really bad time because we are already majorly underfunded," he said.

The Director of Public Relations for Syracuse and Utica Academies of Science Charter Schools, Kelly Gaggin, responded with the following statement:

"When charter public schools are funded, there is no overall loss of public school money because charter schools are public schools. In New York, public school funding follows the student, with the funding going to the public school the parents choose, whether a charter school or a traditional district school. We have enjoyed working with the Utica City School District and look forward to strengthening our relationship with the District and the community as we work together to insure all students in the Utica area receive the best educational opportunities possible."

Bruce Karam said the solution is, "fixing the state aid formula right now for us. That needs to happen. We had a BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services) specialist come in on state aid back when we did the budget and if the state aid formula was written or corrected to where it should be, we're short anywhere 55 to 57 million dollars."

In the meantime, Karam said teachers are trying to adapt to the situation and are doing the best they can.

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