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Most, not all, school budgets earn voter support

Most, not all, school budgets earn voter support

Johnstown school budget voted down
Most, not all, school budgets earn voter support
People vote at Johnstown High School on Tuesday. The budget there was turned down.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

CAPITAL REGION -- Most, but not all, school district budgets across the Capital Region scored voter approval Tuesday as voters signed off on new education spending and the local taxes to support it.

Voters in the Greater Johnstown School District, however, the only district in the region asking voters to exceed the district’s tax cap this year, rejected that budget, which sought to lift the local tax levy by nearly 5 percent and slashed spending on teachers, field trips, athletics and more.

Since the district was seeking to bust the tax cap, it had the largest hurdle to clear in Tuesday’s votes, needing 60 percent approval. Around 51 percent of voters supported the budget.

But district officials throughout the region largely thanked voters and celebrated adopted budgets, capital projects and other spending Tuesday night.

Most districts in the region in their 2018-2019 school year budgets were able to maintain at least the same level of programs and services offered to students under current budgets. A few districts, such as Schenectady and Niskayuna, were able to fund some programming expansion.

But in a handful of districts, including Mohonasen, Johnstown and Cobleskill-Richmondville, tax hikes and increased use of budget reserves was not enough to stave off all budget cuts. Mohonasen’s budget eliminates a dozen teacher positions, mostly focused at the elementary level. Mohonasen voters adopted the budget with 65 percent in support.

“Even though we had to make tough decisions and ended up cutting teaching positions as well as an administrative position, our intent was to balance the cuts and maintain the important structures that help us continue to move forward and rebuild once we have the ability to,” Mohonasen Superintendent Kathleen Spring said in a statement Wednesday night. “We are encouraged by the community’s continued support of our schools.”

Cobleskill-Richmondville voters also approved their district budget.

Early signs over the winter portended a tougher budget season than what ultimately came to fruition as early warnings of massive state shortfalls were never realized. But education watchers in the state are already forecasting tough budgets a year from now. And districts that increased reliance on budget reserves to close budget gaps this year will start next budget season that much deeper in the hole.

“As we spend down reserves and state aid increases don’t keep up with our expenses, we are going to hit a wall, and there will be more school districts looking at cuts,” Michael Borges, executive director of the New York State Association of School Business Officials, said earlier this month. “This year, you saw a smattering of districts looking at cuts, next year, you’ll be looking at more.”

The 2018-2019 Schenectady schools budget, the only one in the region to cut the local tax levy, passed with 458 in favor and 111 voting against the budget. The district’s general fund, the spending approved by voters, now tops $194 million – a 4.3 percent increase over last year. The budget cuts the tax levy by 1 percent and adds 10 new staff positions, including a half-dozen teachers dispersed throughout the district.

Academic program investments includes more supports for struggling students, universal administration of the SAT for high school students and an expansion of before- and after-school tutoring for elementary students. The budget also includes some funding for safety improvement, like covers for exterior high school windows.

School board incumbents John Foley and Mark Snyder, in uncontested races, were elected to new three-year terms.

Saratoga Springs school voters approved a 3.93 percent tax levy increase, as well as a $15.6 million capital project that focuses on athletic fields and community parks and the $100,000 purchase of a home adjacent to Greenfield Elementary School.

In Niskayuna, voters approved a budget that lifted the local tax haul by 2.64 percent, with 1,186 in support and 525 opposedt. But the tax increase was accompanied by the addition of 17 new positions, including teachers and social workers.

The new positions focus on improving social and emotional services for students, expanding programs for students with disabilities and adding teachers to keep up with growing enrollment.

At $84.2 million, Niskayuna’s education spending increased 3.4 percent over the current year, or nearly $2.8 million. That is the district’s largest spending increase in at least eight years.

In a pair of uncontested school board races, incumbent member Howard Schlossberg and new member Noney Grier were elected to three-year terms. Grier works as a voluntary service specialist at the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center, where she oversees the recruitment and management of more than 500 volunteers. She has lived in Niskayuna for seven years, where her son graduated in 2012 and her daughter attends Van Antwerp Middle School.

Voters turned out to approve a $174 million budget for the Shenendehowa Central School District for the upcoming school year and re-elect two board members to the Board of Education. Voters adopted budgets and other resolutions in districts including Galway, Schuylerville, Schalmont, Duanesburg, North Colonie and elsewhere.

Budgets in 38 area districts total over $2.2 billion in spending and will take effect July 1, the official administrative and financial start of the next school year. 

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