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Niskayuna school district’s savings take many forms

Wednesday, December 5, 2012
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— Switching health insurance plans, reducing transportation routes and eliminating administrative positions have been among the cost-saving measures Niskayuna school officials have implemented during the last few years to reduce the budget.

As district officials begin preparing the 2013-14 budget, district Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio gave a presentation Tuesday to the Board of Education about initiatives already implemented.

The district has tried to reduce personnel costs and obtained $600,000 worth of employee concessions over a three-year period. Following contract negotiations, all employees now pay at least 20 percent toward their health care coverage, according to Salvaggio.

Another source of savings has been the district’s self-funded insurance plan. The district consolidated four health insurance plans into one in 2007 and went to a self-funded plan in 2009. The self-funded plan has reduced expenses from $6.5 million in 2009-10 to $6 million last year, according to Assistant Superintendent for Business Matt Bourgeois.

The district has increased the number of employees ordering drugs by mail from 4 percent to 14 percent. Also, because health coverage for its retired employees is equal to or better than what is available from Medicare Part D, the federal government gives the district a $125,000 annual subsidy.

Salvaggio said Niskayuna has also cut transportation costs over the last four years. For the 2009-10 school year, it relocated its English as a second language program and reduced the number of varsity athletic events to save about $43,000.

The following year, it reduced overtime expenses and dropped transportation for its summer literacy program to save roughly $76,000.

For the 2011-12 year, the district consolidated bus routes, limited the use of substitutes, reduced field trips and decreased the frequency of late bus runs to save about $185,000.

This year, officials changed the middle school start and ending times and contracted with a private operator for out-of-district bus routes to save $226,000.

The district receives state aid the following year to reimburse about 63 percent of its costs, according to Bourgeois.

Board member Barbara Mauro questioned whether cutting transportation is the right approach because of the aid the district receives.

“We should really decide whether the amount of savings to the district is worth what the negative effect is going to be,” she said.

Other board members pointed out that transportation aid went into the general fund and helped subsidize teaching staff. Board member John Buhrmaster said the district still saves money going forward.

“That’s a problem I have with some of the accounting we do here, is we look at things in a nonrealistic way,” he said.

The district has also saved on energy costs as a result of its capital project, which installed energy-efficient lighting and heating systems. The district is in the second year of a three-year agreement with the OCM BOCES Energy Consortium. In the first year, the district saved $300,000 on electric costs and $150,000 on natural gas.

Also, the district has cut a number of administrative positions in the last four years, including a high school assistant principal, middle school assistant principal, director of counseling and guidance, director of technology, head mechanic, purchasing agent and safety officer. Those duties have been absorbed into other positions.

Salvaggio added that the district has reduced its teaching staffing based on student enrollment.

Board of Education President Deborah Oriola said this was a good overview going into the budget process.

“It’s helpful to have that,” she said.

In other business, the Board of Education approved a two-year contract with the Niskayuna Educational Secretaries Association. The agreement contains a 1.5 percent salary increase in each year.

 
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