Niskayuna voters reject budget
Turnout high as plan fails to get supermajority
SCHENECTADY COUNTY A large turnout of voters rejected the Niskayuna Central School District budget Tuesday, which was the only spending plan in the county proposing to raise the local tax levy above the state tax cap.
A majority of 3,154 residents voted against the budget, with 2,484 voting in favor. The budget, which would have needed a supermajority to pass because it exceeded the state cap, didn’t even receive a majority, with only 44.1 percent voting in favor. Voter turnout this year far surpassed anything the district has seen in the past three years, which averaged between 3,100 and 3,300.
District officials expect to put a revised budget before voters June 18. It will require a simple majority vote to pass.
After months of grumbling from a number of residents, voters defeated the proposed $76.3 million budget for the 2013-14 school year. The sticking point was its proposed tax levy increase of 5.76 percent; the district’s state cap was 4.66 percent. The typical resident whose home is assessed at $250,000 would have seen his or her tax bill increase about $276, or $23 a month.
“District leaders will spend the coming days looking closely at the results of today’s vote and our exit survey and deliberating carefully about the best path forward for our community,” said Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio in a news release issued Tuesday night.
District officials said earlier in the budget process that if the proposed spending plan were defeated, they would shave $559,000 from the budget so that it meets the tax cap limit. If this plan is put before residents and still rejected, the district would then have to cut nearly $3 million under a contingency plan.
Over the lunch hour Tuesday, traffic was steady at Niskayuna High School, the district’s polling place.
“I just think it’s important to have the programs they have preserved,” said Dave Hesler after he finished voting in favor of the budget.
Cynthia Tepper, who has seen people flock to the area for the region’s new nanotechnology jobs, said she believes no one would choose Niskayuna to live in if the schools didn’t maintain the quality of education that people expect from the district.
“Without good schools, people will not buy houses here,” she said Tuesday after voting for the budget.
George Curtis, however, believed the district could have found more places to cut than it did without affecting school activities. He offered administration as an example.
“I think that there is plenty of slack that they could still attack and make it a lot more reasonable for the town,” he said after voting against the budget Tuesday.
Regardless of how anyone voted, Salvaggio said the district would continue to work hard to earn the support of the community.
“We understand the desire for tax restraint, and at the same time, we know how much our community values its schools and programs for children,” she said. “We take these results seriously. We are listening.”
Residents also elected newcomers Patricia Lanotte and Kevin Laurilliard and incumbent Debbie Gordon to the three open school board seats. Their three-year terms will begin July 1.
School budgets were approved across the rest of Schenectady County.
Duanesburg Central School District voters approved a $14.45 million budget for the upcoming school year, 374 to 197. It carries a tax levy increase of 2.89 percent, which falls below the district’s 4.47 percent cap. The budget will increase spending over the current school year by 1.81 percent, or $256,311. It also includes $130,000 in savings.
The budget will maintain current programs and staff and adds more Advanced Placement courses using grant funding. The positions of two K-6 teachers and a foreign language teacher who are retiring will not be filled, resulting in the elimination of the elementary school’s early learning foreign language program. The technology teaching position will increase to full-time.
In addition, the district will increase the communications and Web services it purchases through BOCES and add grant-writing services in the hopes of getting larger, more competitive grants.
The budget will also fund the school’s meal program, which officials expect to experience a $40,000 shortfall this year.
Voters also approved, 361 to 207, a $197,816 purchase of three buses — one seating 65 passengers, another seating 29 and another seating 20. The state will reimburse nearly 74 percent of this cost, leaving the district responsible for about $13,300 per year for four years.
Newcomers Kent Sanders and Ken Meyer were voted into the two open seats on the Board of Education, with 297 and 241 votes, respectively.
Mohonasen Central School District voters approved a $45.4 million budget, 934-457. It carries a 3.95 percent tax levy increase, which falls under the maximum 4.21 percent the district would have been allowed under the state cap. Based on current assessment figures and equalization rates, a resident with a home assessed at $150,000 will see his or her tax bill increase about $8 a month, or $94 a year.
The school budget will increase spending 2.94 percent over the current year and preserve all existing programs after three years of staff and program reductions. The approved budget will decrease the amount paid toward unemployment insurance, eliminate junior varsity golf and one section of sixth grade, allow for more equipment repairs and maintenance to be done in-house and reduce equipment and technology purchases across the board.
“First of all, I want to thank everyone who came out and voted today,” said District Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Spring in a news release. “As we continue to face rising costs and difficult budgetary decisions, every vote matters. This budget represents the first time in more than four years that we haven’t seen a long list of devastating programmatic and staffing reductions. We were able to preserve what we still have while still coming in under the cap — but that doesn’t mean that this tax increase won’t impact our residents. As I’ve said before, we are very fortunate to live in a community where people recognize the value of their schools.”
Mohonasen residents also approved the $460,000 purchase of four full-size, 66-passenger buses. The state will reimburse the district for 71.7 percent of the cost, leaving the district responsible for a little more than $26,000 a year for five years.
With 1,088 votes, Board of Education President Dominic Cafarelli won another three-year term on the board. Newcomer Bob Piccirillo was elected to fill departing board member Mark Sabatini’s open seat, with 1,059 votes.
Schalmont Central School District voters approved a $43.17 million budget, 541 to 191. The school tax levy will decrease by 8.11 percent next year to nearly $26.5 million.
The budget will increase spending by nearly $1.25 million, or 2.98 percent, over the current year. It will reduce spending by about $186,000, mostly through attrition.
“The Board of Education and I would like to thank everyone who made time to vote today,” said Superintendent Dr. Carol Pallas in a news release. “The budget is what enables us to educate our students, so we’re pleased it met with voters’ approval.”
Voters also approved the $455,000 purchase of three 66-passenger buses, one 28-passenger wheelchair bus and a Suburban, 509 to 217. The state will reimburse the district on 52 percent of the cost, leaving the district responsible for $210,300.
Three candidates were voted into three open seats on Schalmont’s Board of Education. Michael Della Villa was re-elected with 475 votes to serve a fourth term on the board. Robert Sheehan was also re-elected to serve a fourth term with 462 votes. Newcomer John DiCocco was elected with 343 votes. They will serve three-year terms beginning July 1.
Scotia-Glenville Central School District voters approved a $49.1 million spending plan, 1,058 to 497. It will increase the tax levy by 4.46 percent in the upcoming school year, so that residents with a home assessed at $160,000 will see their tax bills increase by $150.40 come September, or by $12.53 a month.
Voters also approved a $457,000 purchase of two 65-passenger school buses, three 29-passenger school buses and one wheelchair-accessible bus. State aid will cover part of the cost, and the district will finance the rest over the next five years.
Current Board of Education Vice President Colleen Benedetto won re-election to her seat with 1,028 votes. Incumbent Andrew Crapo was ousted from his seat by newcomer Daniel Feinberg, who won 877 votes to Crapo’s 695.