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What you need to know for 01/18/2018

Looming tax hikes face Niskayuna school district

Looming tax hikes face Niskayuna school district

Niskayuna Central School District residents lobbied the Board of Education on Wednesday night not to

Niskayuna Central School District residents lobbied the Board of Education on Wednesday night not to increase class sizes or close any schools.

More than 75 people showed up for a community budget forum at Van Antwerp Middle School — one of the schools that could close under one budget scenario as the district tries to close a $6 million gap between projected revenues and expenses next year. The current year’s budget is roughly $75 million.

The first level of cuts would eliminate teachers and a variety of support staff positions to save $1.46 million and reduce the tax levy increase to 8.9 percent. Closing either Van Antwerp or one elementary school are the next level of reductions proposed by the district. Shutting down Van Antwerp would save just shy of $1 million and closing one of the district’s five elementary schools — Birchwood, Craig, Glencliff, Hillside or Rosendale — would save about $450,000. This only gets the district down to a 7 percent to 8 percent tax levy increase, so school officials have more work to do.

Community members suggested moving sports and extracurricular activities outside of school or obtaining advertising sponsorships instead of targeting academics.

Parent Kim Clive-Reed said it is obvious the district will have to make cuts, but said the district is not focusing on the right things. She questioned why the district is proposing to cut teachers and counselors while keeping golf, bowling, skiing and music lessons.

She would rather see athletics and other extracurricular activities moved totally out of the school budget and reduce class size from the current level of 27.

“That I think is probably the most reasonable and fair solution to our long-term problems with the budget,” she said. “We’ll never get there with a death of a thousand cuts.”

However, one issue pointed out by school officials is that if the sports are moved outside of school, they no longer fall under the interscholastic athletics umbrella and can’t compete against other schools.

Board members said they were taking the issue of class size seriously. Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio also presented the results of the district’s online survey completed by 1,500 residents, who said keeping class sizes small was “essential.”

About 32 percent of those who responded said they would support a budget at or below the tax cap, which school officials are estimating to be between 3.25 percent and 3.35 percent.

Twenty-seven percent said they would support a budget with a 6 percent increase or lower; 21 percent would vote for a budget with an increase between 6 percent and 8 percent; 9 percent for a budget between 8 percent and 10 percent and nearly 11 percent for one between 10 percent and 12 percent.

Salvaggio said she doesn’t believe there’s any intention of putting out a budget with a double-digit tax increase.

Sonya Ward, a parent of a first and a fourth grader, said the district needs to find ways to raise revenues. She suggested obtaining corporate sponsorships, putting advertising on athletic scoreboards and having parents fund extracurricular programs.

Salvaggio said it is against New York state education regulations to charge parents for their children to participate in athletic teams.

Board member Barbara Mauro said sports teams are crucial for school spirit. The state discourages advertising, according to Mauro. However, she said there might be an opportunity worth exploring with the district’s electronic message board sign out in front of the high school. Perhaps that could display some advertising because students would not see it during the school day.

Resident Ephy Carmel said there is no question that Niskayuna schools are good, but he is living on fixed income, which isn’t going up at the 4.7 percent rate the school budget would increase if nothing was cut. “We must live within our means,” he said.

He suggested that the district propose a fair budget, which closes the gap equally by increasing taxes and decreasing expenses.

Board member Robert Winchester said he wants to make sure the students attending the district now and the future have the same excellent program his children had.

“Niskayuna has always stood for quality education for its children and I want to ensure that that continues,” he said.

The board will continue its budget discussions and start reviewing proposed cuts at its meeting on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Van Antwerp Middle School.

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