On Friday, more than 100 teachers, social workers and school counselors and more than 200 paraprofessionals in the Schenectady City School District were emailed an hour before learning they were being laid off via two afternoon mass Zoom meetings.
"We're opening up a shell of a district," said Juliet Benaquisto, president of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers.
The Schenectady City School District receives 69 percent of its annual budget from state aid. Benaquisto says slashing the district's aid this significantly disproportionately affects schools in lower income areas like Schenectady.
"If you can compare districts like Schenectady and Shenendehowa, two very different districts in terms of the demographics of our students, but similar numbers, our students are going to have a reduction that equals about $2,100 per student when you calculate the teachers lost and the programs lost. At Shen, that number, that reduction per student is well under $1,000," Benaquisto said.
That discrepancy has many laid-off educators extremely concerned about the well-being of the students they're leaving behind, meaning larger class sizes, potential reduced individualized attention, access to physical education and arts programming, and more.
Katie Gardner is one of six music teachers whose positions were cut or rescinded.
"Even last year before the pandemic, before they really needed this creative outlet, they would come to music and they'd just be smiling, and I had students when we went virtual that I would be the only class that they would complete the work for," Gardner said.
Courtney DeMarsh, a sixth grade teacher at Mont Pleasant who was let go Friday, says it's hard to build trust with students in general, but even more difficult with those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
"For these children, some of them, school is the best thing that they have in life," DeMarsh said. "It's a place where they feel safe, they feel protected, they feel wanted and welcome ... And now telling these children right before they were about to go back and be able to see these people that they're not going to have them anymore, they're gonna just feel like they can't trust us."
The issue is particularly jarring for Asha Evans, one of 14 social workers laid off on Friday. She says the district has worked tirelessly to bring in more social workers the last several years, which not only help the students and their families, but are also a bridge to other resources.
"They're subject to racism, they're subject financial insecurities in their family, which then causes stressors within the family," Evans said. "We often have kids that are homeless; we have kids that come in without like warm winter jackets ... so social workers, a lot of what we do with children is teaching them about coping skills."
On top of the losses in relationships, programming and access to services, Gardner says she is particularly concerned that if this year's aid isn't restored by January, the effects of this 20 percent funding cut could be irreversible.
"Our foundation aid is based on our previous year's budget, so this year, if we are able to make a budget work with a deficit of $30 million from what we expected, next year's foundation aid is going to be based on our budget for this year, even though this wasn't our originally planned budget," Gardner said. "So potentially, the effects of this, if we don't get our funding and aren't able to restore foundation aid, will be absolutely detrimental and will take years to recover from."
All of the educators say they are extremely disappointed and will be missing their students this fall, as well as advocating however they can to try to get $28.5 million in aid that was cut, restored, as quickly as possible.
Spectrum News reporter Erika Leigh is committed to continuing to follow this story. If you were laid off and have information she needs to know, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.