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Niskayuna officials discuss closing schools

District must find $6M for 2013-14

Monday, February 11, 2013
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Closing Van Antwerp Middle School is among the options being considered by the Niskayuna Central School District Board of Education.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Closing Van Antwerp Middle School is among the options being considered by the Niskayuna Central School District Board of Education.

— Closing one of the Niskayuna Central School District’s five elementary schools would save annually about $457,000 and shutting down Van Antwerp Middle School would save $968,000.

Those are two of the more high-profile options on the table as the district tries to cut expenditures to close a $6 million gap between next budget year’s projected costs and revenues. The budget year begins in July.

The district will hold a community budget forum on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Van Antwerp Middle School auditorium to discuss some of these options. People interested in attending the forum should register by calling Cindy Gagnon at 377-4666, ext. 50706, or emailing cgagnon@niskayunaschools.org.

Next year’s school district expenses would be about $78.8 million if all programs and staff were maintained. However, proposed revenue is only about $72.8 million, according to Assistant Superintendent for Business Matthew Bourgeois.

If a school is closed, the jobs of a principal and support staff would be eliminated. If Van Antwerp Middle School is closed, sixth-graders would move back into the elementary schools.

Residents at the district’s last Board of Education meeting expressed displeasure with the idea of closing a school. Parent Paulette Doudoukjian said she and her husband moved back to the area specifically because of Birchwood Elementary School.

“Kids look for consistency and familiarity, and that’s comforting to them and that provides the security and confidence they need to excel,” she said.

Closing a building was Level 2 of three tiers of potential reductions outlined by Salvaggio, each level more severe than the next. If the district implemented all three levels of cuts, it would reduce the tax levy increase to about 2.4 percent.

The least severe Level 1 cuts would reduce various sections of math, music, art, science, business, physical education, foreign language and family and consumer science at the high school and trim staff. With the accompanying fringe benefits, these changes would save about $357,500.

Among the non-instructional reductions would be eliminating a secretary, social worker, a guidance counselor, librarians and the freshman sports program. Implementing all the Level 1 reductions would save about $1.46 million and reduce the tax levy increase to 8.9 percent.

Doing the Level 1 cuts and closing an elementary school would lower the tax levy increase to 8 percent. By closing Van Antwerp, the tax levy increase would be 7 percent.

Level 3 reductions are those that are less likely to occur because they would require union negotiations, according to Bourgeois.

These include returning to half-day kindergarten, eliminating up to 20 clubs at the middle school and high school, eliminating modified sports and contracting with a private company for bus drivers. These cuts would save another $1.2 million.

Resident Linda Rizzo told the board that it needs to adopt a budget with a small tax increase because not everyone is wealthy in Niskayuna, particularly senior citizens on fixed incomes.

“You have some people paying $8,000 in school taxes in this community. You have some paying $12,000 just in school taxes, and you’re not even talking about your town taxes,” she said.

Salvaggio said the district has worked hard over the last four years to make cuts that would not directly affect classroom instruction.

“That’s becoming increasingly difficult to do,” she said.

 
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