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Niskayuna school board set to narrow school configuration options

Niskayuna school board set to narrow school configuration options

Shortlist of options likely to be set at Tuesday board meeting
Niskayuna school board set to narrow school configuration options
Niskayuna school Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, front, with Kim Tully, left, Brian Backus and Rosemarie Perez Jaquith.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

NISKAYUNA -- The school board on Tuesday is set to narrow its options for reworking grade configurations in district schools as it looks to earn voter support next year for a major capital project.

The capital project, slated to go before voters in December 2020, will address growing student enrollment, which includes improving outdated building infrastructure and enabling a possible change in grade levels across the district’s schools.

Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. plans to present around 20 different reconfiguration ideas for the board to consider. Those ideas have emerged through the work of an outside consultant as well as ideas proposed by members of the public and district teachers.

The proposals range from maintaining the status quo to establishing district-wide schools for students in the middle school grades.

“I’m going to walk through each one of those methodically,” Tangorra said Thursday during an editorial board meeting at the The Daily Gazette. Tangorra has already informed board members of the different options, but will offer a more detailed look.

At the school board’s Tuesday meeting, board members plan to identify two or three scenarios that they will send back to the district’s architects and financial adviser, who will then develop more detailed proposals for what kind of construction would be needed

Tangorra said a community committee that had worked with the outside consultant in developing possible reconfiguration options would reconvene to hash out the details of how the different options affect transportation, scheduling and tax rate.

“At the same time the architects are doing their work, we can investigate what are the tax rate ramifications going to be for these three different configurations, what are the transportation ramifications, what are the scheduling ramifications,” Tangorra said.

The district’s architects would return in January to lay out more detailed plans for the various options the board tasked them with detailing; the community committee would also present its work at that time. Then the board will be asked to approve a single configuration and capital project plan to take to voters.

At the editorial meeting, Tangorra, who was joined by three school members, said district faculty have expressed an openness to a new grade-level reconfiguration.

The teachers are particularly focused on how to remake education in the district’s middle grades – from around fifth or sixth grade into ninth grade – and what physical changes are needed to make those changes.

Meanwhile, the broader community has been resistant to any reconfiguration that sends students to  elementary schools far from their homes.

“I can’t imagine that we are ever going to be at a place where there isn’t the current version of those five neighborhood schools or a very similar version of those five neighborhood elementary schools,” Tangorra said. “The basic integrity of those five neighborhoods needs to stay in place.”

The board and district officials may have some room under the various proposals to maintain neighborhood elementary schools, while restructuring the middle school level. One option that received some public support envisions five elementary schools serving pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, while establishing a districtwide school for fifth- and sixth-graders and a districtwide school for seventh- and eighth-graders.

Track still in limbo

As the board has continued its discussions of the capital project and potential grade reconfigurations, the state of the high school track has emerged as a flashpoint.

The track has degraded so much that it's possible the district won’t be allowed to host track meets at the school this year; district officials have already made plans to host its annual Warrior Classic at Schenectady High School or Union College.

Some members of the public have expressed concerns about waiting until a capital project is approved to repave or replace the track, which would still take at least a couple of years to complete after voter approval. Board members have echoed those concerns and asked if it was possible to expedite repairs to the track.

Tangorra, who at previous meetings has advised against attempting an athletics-focused capital project before the broader project, said he is awaiting more information about what it would take to repair the track before presenting the board’s options. That could also be part of Tuesday’s discussion, he said.

“We really have to make that decision with all the information,” Tangorra said. “Depending on how much it’s going to cost it may also result in the need to do an additional referendum to do it sooner rather than later.”

Board members who joined Tangorra acknowledged that the track has been an issue for them and many in the community.

Board member Rosemarie Perez Jaquith pointed out that nearly 70 percent of the district’s students participate in athletics and that families in the district want the best they can afford in academic and extracurricular programming.

“They expect the same, understandably so, for their athletics and other programs,” she said.

Brian Backus, the board’s vice president, said he hopes to clarify with the public the process the district would have to undertake to move forward with a major renovation of the track: The board would likely have to approve a voter referendum for a track-focused project in the coming months and that project would come with no state aid since it wouldn’t include academic spaces.

“All of that is weighing in to our decision on what we can do and how we do it and how soon we can make that go forward,” Backus said.

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