Nearly 90 full-time equivalent positions would be eliminated in the Niskayuna Central School District if the Board of Education decides to go through with proposed cuts to close a $4.1 million budget gap.
Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio said Wednesday that some of the positions would be eliminated through attrition, but there would potentially be layoffs. About 27 staff members in the district have announced their intention to retire.
In total, 36 teachers, two administrators, a nurse, four secretaries, 35 teaching assistants and 11 operation and maintenance employees would be eliminated.
The proposed reductions are manageable, according to Salvaggio. “I’m very cognizant that we have not laid off staff in the past. We have not laid off teachers,” she said.
Under the state cap on property tax increases, Niskayuna’s levy could only increase 3.29 percent and require approval of a simple majority of voters. The current budget is roughly $77 million.
The list of cuts totals just more than $4 million and gets the district within $36,000 of closing the gap. Now, the board is wrestling with some of the decisions.
The district will keep vacant five positions in the operations and maintenance department: a senior maintenance mechanic, a third-shift custodian and three cleaners, including two at the high school, according to Matt Bourgeois, assistant superintendent for business. This will save $300,000, including benefit costs.
In addition, the district will refinance some debt from its 1999 building project to save about $130,000.
The other reductions include not filling two administrative vacancies — the administrator for information technology and the school business administrator — for a savings of $188,000 in salary alone. Their duties will have to be performed by others, according to school officials.
The district is reducing two elementary school positions because it expects to have fewer students next year. Originally, four teachers were going to be eliminated; however, Salvaggio said based on new enrollment projections, she is only proposing to cut two to save $110,000. There would be some combined classrooms in the elementary grades to save $330,000.
She plans to reduce 800 hours per week of teaching assistants, which would shed the equivalent of another 27 full-time positions.
Other cuts include nearly nine positions at the middle school and eight at the high school, based on course enrollment.
Salvaggio noted that core class offerings are being preserved. Honors, accelerated and Advanced Placement courses will continue next year, except in instances where they did not have at least 15 students enrolled.
The district is also starting middle school 15 minutes earlier, moving it from 9:05 a.m. to 8:50 a.m., to save about $115,000 in transportation costs.
These were all the reductions that Salvaggio had listed as “Tier I.”
The only Tier II reduction was to close either an elementary school or one of the two middle schools. Salvaggio said she is not recommending that at this time.
“I just don’t think as a community we’re ready for redistricting the elementary-level schools,” she said. “We really can’t close a middle school and put all of our kids in one middle school for next year. We don’t have a building big enough for that.”
The board seemed to reach consensus on most of the items. Among their concerns was the possibility of some combined kindergarten and first-grade classes.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, kindergarten teacher Abby Webber said the early grades are a huge transition for children.
“I feel it’s important that children enter their first year in school in a program that’s developed especially for them,” she said.
She said she would rather have a class of 24 or 25 than the combined class.
Deb Shea, assistant superintendent for instruction, said she believes Niskayuna’s teachers can handle multi-grade classrooms.
Board members said they could live with 24 kindergartners in a class but did not want to go larger than that.
Resident Joseph Hehir told the board he sees a “tsunami” with the district’s increasing cost for benefits. He said the district should seek concessions from the unions.
“I think teachers are very reasonable people. If you talk it over with them, tell them what the story is, I think they’ll come around,” he said.
Resident Genghis Khan, who also serves on the Niskayuna Planning Board, said the quality of the school system is what draws people to the town. If there is a perception of compromising that education, there will be a migration.
“They’ll either leave the area or not come into the area at all,” he said.
The board will meet again in a work session Tuesday to revisit a few of the potential reductions. Salvaggio said she hoped the board would adopt the budget April 3. All meetings will be held at 7 p.m. at Van Antwerp Middle School.