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Public speaks on Niskayuna school budget

Second question-answer session tonight

Tuesday, June 11, 2013
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Evan Brooksby, standing at podium, speaks to the Niskayuna Central School District Board of Education regarding the proposed school budget during a public hearing Tuesday night at VanAntwerp Middle School.
Evan Brooksby, standing at podium, speaks to the Niskayuna Central School District Board of Education regarding the proposed school budget during a public hearing Tuesday night at VanAntwerp Middle School.

— Niskayuna school officials heard from members of the public Tuesday night on the district’s second budget proposal, with some urging passage because the alternative would be too dire.

Along the way, district officials tried to answer each question posed by about a half-dozen people at its board meeting. A second public vote on the budget is Tuesday.

District resident Sunny Lee said the proposed budget “absolutely must pass.” The alternative of a contingency budget, with $2 million in added cuts that would be imposed if the new budget is voted down, is not an option, Lee said.

But, Lee told the board, “you all need to know that there is a huge part of the community that is really not happy with the budget, even at below the cap, and I am one of them.”

Katie Beltramo, a member of a group calling itself “Vote Yes Niskayuna,” offered signs and car magnets for individuals to show their support for the budget.

An additional presentation and question-and-answer session on the budget is set for this evening at 6 at Town Hall.

The new 2013-14 budget proposal calls for spending $75,693,201, or a 0.47 percent spending increase over the current 2012-13 budget. It now comes in below the mandated state cap at just below a 4 percent tax levy increase. That means a simple majority will be needed to pass the budget at the second vote.

The new budget proposal was needed after district voters soundly defeated the initial proposal that included a 5.76 percent tax levy increase, which was over the 4.66 percent tax cap for the district.

A second defeat would require the district to cut an additional $2 million to get to a required zero increase in the tax levy.

In her presentation, Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio laid out examples of the additional cuts that would be needed. Under her scenario, a “no” vote could return the district to half-day kindergarten, eliminate five elementary classes, reduce high school art and foreign language and eliminate all levels of athletics. There would be other cuts as well.

Salvaggio noted that wasn’t an approved list, but those items would have to be looked at.

District officials also responded to concerns that the list was a “scare” tactic.

“You should probably work on your marketing and messaging because the material that’s come from the district in support of the budget have really seemed like scare pieces when you list ‘this is what’s going to happen if you don’t pass the budget,’ ” resident Evan Brooksby said to applause. Brooksby said he hasn’t decided on how he feels on the proposed budget.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Matthew Bourgeois tried to respond to Brooksby’s concerns, saying changes in contingency budget rules make the alternative information “very real.”

He noted that under old contingency budget rules, the district could still have increased taxes if voters turned down a second budget proposal. With rules put in place in recent years, that is no longer the case.

“Those reductions are very real,” Bourgeois said. “It used to be that you could increase spending under a contingency budget. Under this one, you can’t. So you have to make reductions.”

To get to the 3.95 percent levy increase, the board two weeks ago approved a combination of more than $900,000 in spending cuts and new revenue.

The new proposal would mean a home in Niskayuna valued at $250,000 would see a school tax bill increase of about $189.

The new spending cuts approved in the second budget amount to more than $640,000. The cuts include the loss of 5.9 full-time equivalent positions, consisting of one administrator, just less than one English as a second language position, one clerk and the outsourcing of three computer techs to BOCES.

The new revenue consists of “bullet” aid from the state, as well as new rental income from the district’s bus garage.

The board also approved moving forward with outsourcing transportation in the district, with current drivers given preference for the outsourced positions. The move does carry some risk, officials have said, with the possibility of litigation from the affected bargaining unit. District officials believe they are in a strong position.

 
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