NISKAYUNA — The Niskayuna school board narrowed in on a budget proposal Tuesday night as Superintendent Cosimo Tanogrra Jr. expressed deep skepticism that state lawmakers would ultimately make good on a promise to fully fund a key state aid formula by the 2023-2024 school year.
Board members during Tuesday night’s virtual board meeting collectively agreed to back a $93 million budget for next school year that would eliminate about 14 positions — about half of which would be unfilled positions and the others are determined based on student enrollment and needs — while adding a smaller number of new positions. The additions include an athletic supervisor, a typist, a special education teacher and boosting time funded for a director of technology.
The budget would also restore a 10-week health seminar for ninth-graders, which covers a variety of topics important to transitioning to high school and had been lost to budget cuts nearly a decade ago. The class was seen as an important bridge between middle school and health classes that high-schoolers don’t take until their junior and senior year. Topics to be covered in the class will include mental health, time management and risky behaviors.
The cuts include just over seven positions that will be eliminated through attrition after retirements and other departures; another roughly six positions would be eliminated due to enrollment levels in certain places in the district and other fluctuations in student needs.
Niskayuna is in line to receive a major increase in state aid next school year after lawmakers set out to fully fund in three years the state’s foundation aid formula, which aims to direct state education money to districts based on need. Niskayuna, which has received around half of what the formula says it should get in state aid and has seen small increases in recent years, is set to receive a 16% increase in overall state funding for next school year’s budget, rising by $3.75 million. But Tangorra also downplayed expectations that state lawmakers would continue to increase state aid over the next two years at the levels promised.
“I’m beyond skeptical. I’ve been here before,” Tangorra said, referring to the history of the funding formula, which was established in 2008 and became consistently underfunded within a few years.
State lawmakers this month increased foundation aid funding by $1.4 billion statewide and wrote into law a commitment to fully fund the formula by the 2023-2024 school year. It’s possible lawmakers will back off the promise due to future financial constraints, but it’s the furthest lawmakers have gone in the direction of making good on the formula. If lawmakers do come through, Niskayuna would see foundation aid increases of over $3.1 million each of the next two school years.
“I’m extremely skeptical of those increases going forward to the point I do not believe that money will materialize,” Tangorra said.
Board members came to a consensus to back Tangorra’s recommended spending plan, which will go up for voter approval next month, but they didn’t determine the tax levy increase to propose to voters.
The district’s state tax cap is 1.17%, but board members talked about asking for an increase closer to 2% to maintain its fund balance for next year’s budget. A tax levy increase above the 1.17% tax cap would require 60% voter approval. The public vote will take place on May 18 at Niskayuna High School from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“I do think our community is very invested in the schools and values what the district does,” board member Kim Tully said as she and other members expressed confidence voters would support a budget slightly above the tax levy limit.