Extracurricular frills are what’s driving up public school costs
On March 21, Niskayuna held a public forum on the budget. In his presentation, the superintendent stated there is a revenue shortfall. Taxpayers will no doubt have a higher school tax bill.
When will it stop? When will they say they have enough?
Our goals for public education have undergone a metamorphosis in less than 20 years. Rather than excellence in academics, our public schools now routinely provide everything else, from swimming pools to TV studios, once the province of prep schools and colleges.
One of the board members made the statement that the reason we chose to live in Niskayuna was the excellent schools. There is some truth in that statement. But we currently pay for much more than academics.
Here are few suggestions to help close the budget gap, spare the taxpayer and permit the schools to have their cake and eat it too:
1) Charge parking fees to students and staff. Teachers’ salaries may be contractual and not subject to a decrease, but they could pay for parking. Most employees pay for parking, and $30 a month would be a fair charge; not the $60 per year school seniors currently pay.
2) Charge a fee for all extra costs associated with sports, music, art and all other elective/extracurricular activities. These activities are not part of academic program nor, are they accessed by all students.
3) Charge a fee to all students who wish to take a late bus.
School administrators, school boards and parents of schoolchildren need to realize that Niskayuna’s schools are public schools; not prep schools. Academic excellence is attainable within budgetary constraints; but participants must start paying for everything else.
Schools need the support of all town taxpayers to achieve their primary purpose (education) and they are losing that support with this prep-school mentality.
State must provide mandate relief for schools
New York’s public schools have worked diligently over the past several years to minimize expenses in the face of less state aid. School districts have minimized tax increases over the past several years by judiciously preparing budgets that held increases very close to the Consumer Price Index. School districts have cut expenses. Could they cut more without disrupting the quality of educational services? First the Legislature and the governor have to get serious and stop any disingenuous and distracting attacks on schools.
The state mandates much of what public schools must do, and several of those mandates drive expenses higher. When you cap, and/or cut the revenue provided to schools while still requiring them to pay substantial fees for unfunded mandates, schools have a rapidly increasing debt.
The governor knows all about the mandate relief that schools want, and he has ignored even mentioning the possibility. Addressing the issue takes tremendous leadership; Republican, Democrat it really does not matter. We have seen it in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Wisconsin. We have seen how unpopular it can be, yet that should not deter us from good financial common sense. It is not sound fiscal management to propose, as the governor has, cutting revenue, implementing a wealth-based GAP Elimination Adjustment that can be unfair to both wealthy and poorer districts, and proposing a two-year budget that does not get schools back to revenue levels of two years ago, all while mandating ever-increasing costs.
So on one side of the equation is lowering taxes. Please, lower our taxes — cap, cut, reform, do something. But do not provide a tax cut without implementing sufficient mandate relief so that taxpayers are not burdened with ever-increasing costs.
Here is a short list of some mandates that the state should consider easing:
u Mandatory payments by school districts to guarantee an adequate return on teachers retirement plans.
u Mandating automatic “step” increases when the previous contract has expired, as stipulated in the Triborough Amendment.
The writer is a member of the Shenendehowa school board.
Niskayuna must make up for razing of mansion
In a March 21 article, [“First permit sought for Mansion Square”} the Gazette confirmed the start of permits for the Mansion Square development on Balltown Road.
After the debacle over Stanford Mansion, let’s hope that the Niskayuna Planning Board does not endorse another debacle, with no formal plans for the site. One would hope that, unlike Mohawk Commons, customers will not have to get into their cars to get from one business to another.
Sidewalks and beautiful landscaping can help to mitigate the eyesore which now confronts any viewer. Perhaps a plan, such as Stuyvesant Plaza in Guilderland, could be considered.
In any event, this is an opportunity to demand a user-friendly and more attractive environment for residents and visitors. Let us hope that the Planning Board exercises this choice
Cynthia S. Tepper
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