Niskayuna school board restores cuts, likely to exceed state tax cap
NISKAYUNA It is becoming more likely that the Niskayuna Central School District will propose a budget that exceeds the state’s property tax levy cap.
The Board of Education added items back into the budget Wednesday night that brought the proposed tax levy increase to around 8.15 percent.
The district started with roughly a $6 million deficit. If it rolled over all existing programs and staff from this year’s $75 million budget, its 2013-14 budget would be nearly $79 million. However, revenues are only projected to come in at $72.8 million. Making up the difference would result in an 11.8 percent increase in the tax levy.
Through several rounds of cuts, the district got that down to 7.7 percent last week, but then added a few things back.
The board spent nearly three hours going over the list of proposed cuts. The slow pace of the deliberations frustrated board member John Buhrmaster, who said his colleagues were nickel and diming things and the district would fall short of getting the 60 percent approval from voters required to exceed the tax cap, which is about 4.7 percent in Niskayuna’s case.
“We’ve got professionals who have looked over these lists and have given their professional opinion,” he said. “We have an end goal, and we have to meet that goal. We need a budget passed. How are we going to do it if we say no to a school closure and no to everything else here?”
The board had said closing an elementary school or a middle school would be an absolute last resort.
It voted to restore science laboratory periods for mastery level chemistry and physics students, in addition to the restorations of the labs for honors and AP students.
During the public comment section, some residents urged smarter cuts. David Rosowsky, who is dean of the school of engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, suggested cuts be made in arts, music and sports.
“Core educational programming must be at the top of the list,” he said.
Don Cazer said the board should adopt a lower budget.
“To get 60 percent of people to vote on [a] 7.7 percent [increase] could be a disaster,” he said.
Tom Jasiewicz said taxes have been going up every year, despite increases in property values. He said he was in middle school when the district closed one of its two middle schools and he and other students turned out fine.
“Sharpen your pencils. Look deep. Some of this stuff is really superficial, but make the hard decisions,” he said.
The district did get a bit of good news in that it is due to receive $200,000 more in school aid from the state Legislature’s budget than what Gov. Andrew Cuomo had proposed. Still, the district’s projected state aid is around $18.5 million — about $260,000 less than this year.
The board is tentatively scheduled to adopt a budget at its meeting on April 9 at Van Antwerp Middle School.