Niskayuna Central School District officials are looking overseas in their effort to obtain new revenue for the district as it tries to close a $6 million budget gap.
Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio said she is exploring the possibility of tuition-paying international students attending the district’s high school.
The first step would be for the district to apply for F1 visa status, which would allow it to accept these students for one year. Salvaggio told the Board of Education on Tuesday that if it is interested, she would start the application right away, as it could take up to 10 months to receive federal approval. The application fee is $2,300.
Other districts in New York currently taking international students are Newcomb in Essex County, Berne-Knox-Westerlo in Albany County and Red Creek in Wayne County, according to Salvaggio. She cautioned that she has talked with officials in other districts and found that the revenue from such an initiative would be modest.
“The other districts have not really framed it as a revenue-generating program. They’ve viewed it as a cultural benefit for the students coming in and the community receiving them,” she said.
Salvaggio said she believes Niskayuna may be well-positioned to receive international students because of the influx of technical experts arriving in the area for short-term research positions at local technology companies.
Under the current federal rules, the students can stay for only one year. However, Salvaggio said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is proposing legislation that would allow the students to stay for all four years of high school.
Salvaggio said the one-year rule is unfair because it only applies to public schools.
“There are some international students that live in the community and attend private schools, and they’re allowed to be there for four years,” she said.
Schumer has not yet reintroduced the bill in the new Congress, but is working with other senators to include this in larger bipartisan immigration legislation, according to his office.
Newcomb has been hosting international students for the last six years, according to Superintendent Clark “Skip” Hults. The purpose was twofold — to bring more diversity into the school community and to shore up the district’s shrinking enrollment. At one point, Newcomb had 400 students, but enrollment shrank below 100 when a local mine closed. It currently stands at 105.
“We really didn’t do it for financial reasons, but I admit it’s really been very helpful,” he said. “Next year, we’ll be bringing about a quarter of a million dollars to the community.”
The tuition of $9,000 per student is split equally between the school district and the host families for their expenses.
Over the life of the program, the district has welcomed 61 students from 25 different nations all over the world, including Brazil, China, France and Iraq About 15 different agencies work with the districts to place students, and the word has spread through publicity.
The Niskayuna board expressed interest in immediately amending its policy prohibiting the district from accepting tuition students to get moving on this issue. A larger issue of whether to accept tuition-paying students from other local districts will need further discussion.
Salvaggio said this process wouldn’t be completed in time to benefit the 2013-14 budget.
Another idea for generating revenue is purchasing the property at 1301 Hillside Ave. that it currently leases for its transportation facility. A referendum will be held on March 14 for voters to decide whether the district can buy the property for $3.2 million and pay it off over 15 years.
District officials say if it owns the facility, it won’t have to make next year’s $420,000 lease payment, but rather a $135,000 debt payment.
Because its lease payment goes up by 5 percent every year, the district would save $4.8 million during that 15-year period through bond principal and interest payments that are less than annual lease costs.
Also, if the district takes over the facility, it would get the money from cellphone companies that are leasing space at the facility.
A public hearing on the property purchase will be held on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Van Antwerp Middle School auditorium. On March 14, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Niskayuna High School.
Other ideas for generating revenue include renting more classroom space to Capital Region BOCES and increasing fees for community groups that use space at the school.
“We haven’t made some adjustments in amounts that we charge in quite a while,” Salvaggio said.