Niskayuna schools to host capital project community forums in July

Condition of high school track draws school board urgency

Categories: News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

Niskayuna school district officials are hosting three community forums this month to solicit public input into planning for proposed major capital projects targeted for public referendum in late-2020.

The capital projects, which Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. has called “significant,” aims to address anticipated enrollments, meet current infrastructure needs and set the district up for potential reconfiguration of its school buildings.

“This process is all about the academic programs we want for our students in Niskayuna and the facilities we need to provide these learning experiences,” according to a message the district posted soliciting participation in the forum.

The three community forums will all be hosted in the Niskayuna High School Little Theater:

– July 11 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

– July 25 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

– July 31 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

The meetings, which will be facilitated by staff from the Capital Region BOCES, will include small-group conversations about capital project priorities. The district has asked that people interested in attending one of the forums register ahead of time; visit the district’s website for more information.

Keep neighborhood schools, fix the track

A consultant this spring finished a report for district officials that mapped out enrollment projections and outlined a handful of options for remaking how grade levels are distributed across the district’s school buildings.

Tangorra has asked the school board to further narrow the reconfiguration options to two or three potential scenarios by October, so district officials can develop more detailed plans for each scenarios to bring back to the school board.

Conversations and comments at recent school board meetings have signaled some of the kinds of contentious issues with the district will grapple as it decides what to do with the capital projects and whether to pursue a major reconfiguration.

A parent last month, for example, explained to the board that she preferred keeping her children at their local neighborhood school for as long as possible and expressed concern that some of the reconfiguration options would result in further travel to and from school for her family.

“I do not support changing the school configurations,” she told the board.

And at Tuesday’s school board meeting, the first of the new school year, board members discussed whether it was feasible to use some of the district’s approximately $7 million capital reserve fund to upgrade the high school track sooner than the capital projects planned to put before voters in 2020.

Board members broached the idea with Tangorra, asking about the logistics of trying to replace the track sooner than the current capital project timeline would allow. But Tangorra advised against moving a track project sooner, telling the board that would interfere with the finances of the proposed 2020 capital projects and risk confusing voters with two similar referendums in a short window of time. (The board would need voter approval to spend money from the capital reserve fund, money that is planned to be used to cover part of the local share of the proposed 2020 capital project.)

“Although some folks might be happy because you are having some of these needs addressed, you are compromising the larger plan,” Tangorra said, calling the idea of expediting a track replacement an “irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars.”

But the track appears in dire need of repairs, with Tangorra suggesting to the school board that regional athletic officials may deem the high school track unsuitable for competition as early as this coming school year.

Board members said even if a full replacement has to wait, they want a plan to ensure athletics run smoothly next year.

“If the track is in the condition that we’ve heard throughout the community, we’ve go to make sure there is a plan for how track and field is going to happen next spring,” board member Brian Backus said at the meeting.

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