Schenectady County

Niskayuna school budget avoids merging grades

The Board of Education on Tuesday night unanimously approved a $77.2 million budget for 2011-12 that

The Board of Education on Tuesday night unanimously approved a $77.2 million budget for 2011-12 that restores four elementary teaching positions, thereby canceling a controversial proposal to combine classes, but cuts 30 positions in the district.

The budget hikes the property tax levy by 3.95 percent while increasing spending by 0.97 percent, or $740,000, over the current budget of $76.5 million. According to the school district, an average home assessed at $250,000 in Niskayuna would pay approximately $166 more in school tax next year should the budget be approved.

The budget goes to a vote May 17. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Niskayuna High School.

Should voters reject the budget, the district has the option to adopt a contingency budget. Superintendent Kevin Baughman said the contingency budget would be $800,000 higher than the proposed $77.2 million budget, representing a spending increase of 1.92 percent. Baughman said a contingency budget would also result in a property tax levy of 6.15 percent.

Board of Education President Jeanne Sosnow said she would have liked to see a lower tax levy, but “in general what we have done is to be true to our academic mission and to Niskayuna’s reputation. We still have programming that people want to move to for school.”

District administrators said the board reinstated $1.4 million of $5.1 million in proposed cuts to the original draft budget of $80.9 million. The board, for example, restored $316,880 for four elementary school teachers. Had the cut remained, the district would have combined grades 4 and 5 at four elementary schools, a move opposed by parents. The board also restored the Explorers’ Program, totaling $68,000; reading teachers, totaling $170,000; and teaching sections at the middle school, totaling $139,000.

The district appropriated $4.2 million of its fund balance and reserves to balance the 2011-12 budget. The appropriation is nearly double the amount the district generally uses each year, said Assistant Superintendent for Business Matt Bourgeois.

Staff reductions include 24.58 full-time-equivalent positions among support staff, representing secretaries and custodians, 7.92 teaching positions and two administrators. The district, however, is hiring five teachers for its new full-day kindergarten program, and one administrative position was already vacant and will therefore not be filled.

Bourgeois said the district will send out layoff notices by July 1 to 12-month employees or Sept. 1 to 10-month employees.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, several parents thanked the board for restoring the teaching positions. One of them, Sally Ward, a former teacher and current stay-at-home mom, said the restoration came “with only a small increase in the tax levy.”

Mary Wade, co-president of Niskayuna Educational Support Personnel, which represents clerical staff, urged the board to restore $3,000 to the budget for resource room assistants, who help teachers, administrators and students.

Chris Patricca urged Niskayuna residents to reject the budget. “We have a great school system, but taxes are making it undesirable to live here,” she said.

Voters last year in the Niskayuna Central School District approved the district’s proposed 2010-11 budget by 673 votes.

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