Saratoga County

Citizens to give Shen budget views

Just one week after Board of Education members got their first look, Clifton Park residents are i

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Just one week after Board of Education members got their first look, Clifton Park residents are invited to weigh in on the preliminary 2008-09 Shenendehowa Central School District budget of $146 million which, if approved, would require a tax rate increase of 5 percent.

There will be an open floor at the school board meeting at 7 tonight at Gowana Elementary School Library for members of the public to ask questions, make suggestions and gather information just as school board members are doing.

Welcoming public comment this early in the game is one way the school board is working to generate ideas on a spending plan that taxpayers will ultimately support. By law, the district is required to hold one public hearing before a budget goes to the polls. Scheduled this year on Tuesday, May 6, that hearing falls on the calendar just two weeks before the vote on May 20 on the final budget version.

“What we’re looking to do here is involve the public right from the get-go,” said school board President Bill Casey. “When we go by the state requirements, we get feedback so late in the process it’s often impossible to make changes, so we got into the habit several years ago of answering people’s questions now. We hope we do get a lot of comments and questions; that’s what we’re here for.”

Casey said with 90 percent of the district’s overall expenses fixed, particularly in personnel costs, there’s not a great deal of flexibility, but nonetheless, the spending plan is designed to mirror the direction the district wants to follow.

“The budget document is our principal policy document in that it makes us weigh out competing interests and prioritize everything,” said Casey. “You should be able to look at a budget line by line and see funds going into programs that make the most impact.”

Last week, Superintendent of Schools L. Oliver Robinson unveiled funding requests from across the district, equaling $4.6 million for equipment, repairs, personnel, transportation, travel and conference costs, supplies and instructional media.

The overall requests were itemized into categories, with top priorities going to health and safety, followed by program needs and wish lists. About $2 million of the requests are included in the budget draft. In his early budget draft presentation, Robinson listed programs such as sports, staff development, continuing education, electives, clubs and band/music as highly essential programs, and the need to balance these with mandates on classroom size, New York state testing standards, Special Education and Academic Intervention Services. The district is also implementing an instructional technology plan and making security and safety upgrades at various facilities.

The 2008-09 preliminary spending plan reflects a 5.87 percent increase in expenses over the 2007-08 budget of $138 million. After being approved by voters last May, the budget called for a tax increase of 3.85 percent, which was the lowest increase in four years.

Also at tonight’s meeting, the board will determine the specifics of a separate proposal to be on the ballot in May on purchasing new school buses to add to the fleet of 198 vehicles. The buses now log in a cumulative 2.5 million miles annually.

“We have ongoing needs to keep the vehicles in top shape,” said Casey. “With our new bus garage and repair facility, we’re able to do a lot of work to keep the buses maintained ourselves, but when it gets to the point where we’re putting more money in than they’re worth, it’s time to upgrade.”

Casey estimated about a dozen vehicles, ranging from 66-passenger to 20-passenger vehicles, some equipped with wheelchair lifts, will need to be purchased this year, requiring a vote separate from the overall budget vote. Last year, residents approved the purchase of 14 vehicles at a cost of $1 million, 64 percent of which was reimbursable by state aid.

Board of Education members will continue reviewing the budget numbers in a series of study sessions.

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