After months of deliberations, the Niskayuna Board of Education has been able to whittle its proposed tax levy increase down to a little less than 8 percent.
Niskayuna Central School District officials have been trying to close a roughly $6 million budget gap. Rolling over all the existing programs and staff from this year’s $75 million spending plan into the 2013-2014 budget would result in a roughly $3.8 million increase. However, revenues are only projected to come in at $72.8 million. Making up the difference would result in an 11.8 percent increase to the tax levy.
The board has mulled closing one of the two middle schools or one of its five elementary schools. While that option is technically still on the table, board members have indicated that it would be a last resort.
Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio has been trimming that initial tax levy increase over the past several meetings with a series of proposed reductions.
She had outlined about $1.3 million worth of initial cuts, including about three full-time equivalent teachers and about 10 administrative and instructional support staff such as secretaries, clerical assistants and a building and grounds administrator.
The Board of Education wanted a couple of the proposed reductions taken off the list, including eliminating third-shift cleaning at the high school and restored late bus runs. Those restorations added another $100,000 back to the budget.
The board is still deliberating on other cuts. Board President Deb Oriola said she was concerned about the elimination of the Explorers teacher, which provided academic enrichment to elementary students. This was the last piece of any program for the gifted and talented.
“I believe we are really losing an opportunity in terms of what we are as a district,” she said.
The budget picture brightened somewhat with approval by voters on March 14 of a referendum to purchase the bus facility on Hillside Avenue that it had been leasing. The bond payment will be $125,000 less than the $420,000 lease payment, so that is a savings that trimmed some more of the proposed tax levy increase.
Salvaggio had outlined another half-million dollars worth of cuts last week. However, some of the items concerned board members and they are being put back in the budget. Among the items spared from elimination were the sixth-grade foreign language program, science labs for Advanced Placement and honors chemistry and physics courses and three of the six performing ensembles at the high school that would have been cut.
Salvaggio said the high school concert last week at Proctors prompted her to reconsider that proposed reduction because she thinks the community would not support it. Instead, the number of in-school music lessons would be reduced.
With all the items that were restored, there would be only about $248,000 in savings.
However, Salvaggio announced Tuesday that the academic department directors have agreed to increase their teaching load from one course to two in addition to their administrative duties. This would cut a 1.3 full-time equivalent positions. Along with 14 teacher retirements, the savings, including benefits, would be about $500,000.
Salvaggio said she is running out of things to cut. The current tax levy increase would be 7.7 percent. “We’re about at the point where we’re not going to be able to lead our school and do the work required of the district if we go much further,” she said.
Under the state formula, the district’s tax levy cap is about 4.7 percent. If it were to submit a budget for approval that exceeded the gap, at least 60 percent of voters would have to vote yes.
Regarding concerns about the potential for school closures in the future, Salvaggio said the board at its March 5 meeting voted to establish a committee to look at long-term enrollment trends and the use of its facilities. The district is putting together a more thorough census that will give it data on where residential growth is occurring in the district.
The board will continue its discussion on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Van Antwerp Middle School auditorium.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Oriola said.