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What you need to know for 12/15/2017

Niskayuna eyes spending gap, wants new teachers

Niskayuna eyes spending gap, wants new teachers

Spending plan also includes 2.08% increase to district's tax levy
Niskayuna eyes spending gap, wants new teachers
Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

NISKAYUNA -- School officials are still more than $600,000 short of closing the gap in a preliminary budget proposal, but they are hoping they can achieve balance while still adding more than $400,000 in new spending for teachers and other staff.

The new spending is included in a budget proposal Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. presented to the board earlier this week. The new teachers would help manage class sizes, meet high school demand for certain courses and give teachers more time in a team-planning setting.

Those are the superintendent’s marching orders, as he works with other staff to develop a more detailed spending proposal by next week.

“The direction from the board was to work with the core leadership to find ways to close that gap without closing off the (new teacher positions) in that budget proposal,” Tangorra said. “We will be examining and reexamining the budget to deliver what the board asked for.”

The budget plan adds two new elementary teachers to help accommodate larger kindergarten classes as they progress through the lower grades. The budget also includes more than two new teaching positions to help manage sixth- and seventh-grade class sizes at Van Antwerp Middle School. And class sections would be added at the high school to meet interest in robotics and Chinese II courses.

 “We are all hopeful the gap can be eliminated by finding places we overestimated or underspent,” Jacquith said. “Our focus will remain on the kids: teachers teaching and students learning.”

The spending plan also includes a 2.08 percent increase to the district's tax levy – the total amount collected in local taxes. That is the most the district can boost the levy by this year without busting its state-mandated tax cap, a move that would require supermajority approval from the public when the budget goes to a vote in May. The budget proposal represents a 1.8 percent spending increase -- a total of 81.9 million -- from the current year’s budget.

District officials also plan to use more than $1.5 million of the district’s fund balance reserves. Tangorra said he hopes to eventually phase that pull to zero and balked at considering using more of the fund balance to cover the budget gap.

District officials expect the final state budget to give them a little more breathing room than the governor’s proposed budget does. (The governor's numbers used in the preliminary budget.)

But Tanogrra argued the district is still more than $5 million short of receiving what the state’s core educating funding formula says the district would receive if the state fully funded that formula.

“We are not at a place where we are cutting program,” Tangorra said at the board meeting Tuesday night. “Are we where we want to be? Absolutely not. Are we getting everything we deserve from foundation aid? No we are not. But we are moving forward… we are not gutting program.”

Other additions in the budget include plans for a new pre-kindergarten summer school program that would serve as an early welcome to the district’s youngest students, repairs to the high school’s geothermal system, which has long been operating at less-than-full efficiency, and continued work to write and implement new classroom curriculum plans.

But the budget does not include some of the spending requests school leaders made throughout the winter, including creating an alternative education program at the high school, reestablishing full-time librarian positions or increasing social worker and other mental health supports. 

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