NYSED: State money would have funded 141 students for Niskayuna Central School District’s halted UPK program

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NISKAYUNA – After the Niskayuna Central School District blamed the halting of a new universal prekindergarten program for up to 50 students on a budget shortfall, state numbers obtained by The Daily Gazette show the Niskayuna district’s universal pre-K funding allocation would have supported 141 full-day students.

The Niskayuna district was allocated $761,400 in UPK state aid funding to serve 141 4-year-old students in a full-day setting for the 2022-23 school year, according to numbers supplied by the New York State Education Department. The allocation was an increase of $199,800 from the 2021-22 allocation of $561,600, according to NYSED.

District Superintendent Carl Mummenthey and Niskayuna Board of Education President Kimberly Tully did not return voicemails Friday seeking comment. In announcing on Tuesday plans to halt the program, district spokesperson Roberto LoBianco blamed improper budgeting for the failure to launch the universal pre-K program for the upcoming school year. He said the district learned this summer that the district’s per-student allotment of $5,400 would not cover the full cost of the planned program, and district leaders failed to budget supplemental funding to close the gap. The district did not provide specifics on the budget shortfall when pressed Tuesday.

“The state’s per-pupil allocation for low and average need districts like ours appears insufficient to fully fund a UPK program without supplemental funding. The district did not budget funds in our 2022-23 general fund budget for UPK,” LoBianco said Tuesday.

A NYSED official providing information on background, reiterated: “The state aid would have funded 141 full-day students that Niskayuna enrolled.”

The proposed program, which was announced in April as an opportunity to support 50 families in the district with free early education, has for months been mired in controversy over the planned location. After the district initially said on April 12 that the program would be housed at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center, community members and child care service providers criticized the collaboration for coming about without a sufficient request for proposals.

The initial call for proposals went out Dec. 6, 2021, and were due Jan. 7, 2022, according to a copy of the RFP obtained by The Daily Gazette. The initial call was for up to six, full-day classrooms of no more than 18 4-year-old students – meaning the initial call was for a program supporting up to 108 students, the RFP shows. However, during the April announcement of the collaboration with the JCC, district officials said the capacity was 50 students, according to reporting in The Daily Gazette. In its initial proposal, the district said it would consider housing programs at multiple sites.

The district reissued a call for proposals on April 29.

“The request for proposals was reissued to ensure that it was widely advertised,” LoBianco said.

The JCC was the only respondent to the reissued call, according to LoBianco.

A resident’s May 6 FOIL request for the JCC’s proposal, which would show the JCC program’s planned budget, was denied.

“This request is denied on the basis that portions of such records are trade secrets and/or are submitted to the district by a commercial enterprise or derived from information obtained from a commercial enterprise and which, if disclosed, would cause substantial injury to the competitive position of the subject enterprise,” reads the denial, obtained by The Gazette.

LoBianco said Tuesday he didn’t know how many families were interested in the program.

“We don’t have a number because we didn’t move forward with the lottery and application process, so we don’t have a certain number on how many families have expressed interest,” he said. “But we know it’s a huge value to many families. It’s super important, so we’re committed to bringing a program forward as soon as possible.”

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

Categories: News, Schenectady County, Your Niskayuna

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