The community will get a chance to weigh in tonight on how the Niskayuna Central School District should close a multimillion-dollar budget gap for next year.
The first of three budget forums will take place at 7 p.m. in the Van Antwerp Middle School auditorium.
Maintaining existing programs and staff for the 2013-14 school year would cost about $6 million more than the current $75.3 million budget. To get a budget that does not exceed the district’s tax levy cap, which has been calculated at 3.39 percent, the district could increase spending by no more than $1.7 million.
Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio told the Board of Education on Tuesday what programs the district is not required to offer and she will recap that presentation at tonight’s meeting.
The high school provides required basic classes in science, English, social studies, foreign language, physical education, music, art and other subjects. However, it goes beyond what the state requires in offering Advanced Placement and college-level courses, plus other upper-level classes such as calculus and additional years of foreign languages. It also has electives including sociology, psychology and the Vietnam War.
School officials are also in the early stages of planning new courses in robotics and nanoscale science and engineering through partnerships with Schenectady County Community College and Hudson Valley Community College, according to Salvaggio.
There are other areas besides curriculum where Niskayuna exceeds state mandates. For example, the district could make some students walk to school. Salvaggio said the state requires districts to provide transportation for students in kindergarten through eighth grade who live more than two miles from the school. For the high school, the district need not transport students who live less than three miles away.
Many districts bus all of their students, partly out of concern for their safety, as they walk on busy roads such as Balltown Road, where the high school is located.
Most Niskayuna students are offered transportation. Students who live within a half-mile of Van Antwerp Middle School and a mile of the high school students can walk, but Salvaggio said it would not be easy to slash busing, even if the board wanted to.
“We would have to have a vote of the community to change what’s been established practice,” she said.
Salvaggio added that non-mandated programs and services are what makes Niskayuna special and ranked among the top school districts in the Capital Region.
“We feel like we’re fighting for our lives here,” she said.
The district will also hold community forums Feb. 13, which will deal with the results of budget survey, and March 7, which will outline potential budget reductions. All will be held at 7 p.m. at Van Antwerp Middle School.