Schenectady County

Niskayuna School District faces $6M budget gap

Closing the high school pool in July, canceling summer school and eliminating all late buses are jus
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Closing the high school pool in July, canceling summer school and eliminating all late buses are just some of the steps Niskayuna schools may take to close a nearly $6 million budget gap.

Superintendent of Schools Kevin Baughman outlined a total of $5 million potential budget reductions to the Board of Education on Tuesday.

“A 2 percent levy [increase], which some people would scream at, would be using all of the reductions on this list,” he said.

The district’s $76 million base budget is facing increases of $1.1 million each for salary and pension costs. In addition, there is a $550,000 increase in health insurance benefits and $155,000 in bond payments. These cost increases are coupled with the loss of $1.5 million in federal stimulus money and a $1.4 million state aid cut. Baughman is using Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s aid numbers and the superintendent doesn’t think the aid picture will improve much.

“I think the Assembly is going to come back with an alternate 2 percent tax cap legislation and they’ll be doing some horse trading as they typically do,” he said.

Despite Cuomo’s talk about school districts using their reserve funds, Baughman said Niskayuna only has $3.7 million in savings. Even if it were to spend the whole amount this year, it would not be enough to cover the deficit. The district would be further behind the following year.

A worse-case scenario would see the elimination of 22 teaching positions, 24 support staff and four administrative and managerial positions — about 6.6 percent of the total staff of 759 people.

Among the job eliminations would be an assistant principal position at the high school, leaving three administrators for a building of 1,400 students. The elementary and middle schools would not have assistant principals under this budget.

Some of the proposed reductions involve streamlining operations. For example, the district is saving about $210,000 by dropping the mid-day bus runs because it is switching to full-day kindergarten this fall. This includes $15,000 to pay substitute bus drivers to fill in for those that call in sick or otherwise can’t make it to work.

Baughman has trimmed substitute driver expenses elsewhere, including making them come in later to save money.

The district is also reconfiguring bus routes to shorten distances and put more students on each bus, in theory. Many high school students are driven to school by their parents or drive to school.

“I pity the day when they all decide to ride,” he said.

The late buses at the high school and middle school would also be eliminated to save about $75,000. Board members expressed concern about eliminating those bus runs because they transport students who stay after school for clubs, sports or detention.

About $1 million worth of savings was achieved by building the budget tighter with less wiggle room to cover any unexpected expenses, according to Baughman.

Other recommendations are to cut back the hours of the athletic trainer to 21⁄2 days a week. Not many other districts have this type of position, according to board member John Buhrmaster.

Board member Barbara Mauro disagreed. “I wouldn’t say it’s a luxury. Now, we’re getting into the area of a student being injured,” she said.

Deborah Oriola disliked the idea of closing the pool for almost two months. It is already closed for a few weeks in August for maintenance.

“The community supported it, voted for it and paid for it,” she said.

Resident Ed Leighton, who has a junior in high school, said the board should consider asking administrators to freeze their salaries like was done in Bethlehem.

“I’ve been in town for 61⁄2 years and I’ve seen my taxes go up every year,” he said.

He also believes the district could survive with fewer administrators.

The board will be holding budget discussions every Tuesday in March and on April 5 at 7 p.m., usually at the district office. A public forum will be held on March 21 at 7 p.m. in the Niskayuna High School auditorium. The list of reductions can be found at the district’s website at www.niskayunaschools.org.

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