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Niskayuna board floats new budget plan

Wednesday, May 29, 2013
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Dr. Lyle Barlyn, makes a point to the Niskayuna School Board in the aftermath of the defeated proposed school budget Tuesday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Dr. Lyle Barlyn, makes a point to the Niskayuna School Board in the aftermath of the defeated proposed school budget Tuesday.

— Officials with the Niskayuna Central School District on Tuesday night proposed more than $600,000 worth of additional cuts to bring the tax levy increase below 4 percent for 2013-14.

Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio presented the potential cutbacks a week after district voters resoundingly defeated the initial budget proposal, which called for a 5.76 percent levy increase.

The budget revisions proposed by Salvaggio would bring the tax levy increase below the 4.66 percent cap, so the plan would require only a simple majority of voters to approve it in the June 18 revote.

“We heard loud and clear that the budget we put forth wasn’t acceptable,” Assistant Superintendent for Business Matt Bourgeois said.

The proposed reductions totaled $636,000, including 7.5 full-time-equivalent positions, one of those an administrative position.

The additional cuts were prompted by district voters defeating the original budget proposal May 21, with just 44.1 percent of voters voting in favor and 55.9 percent voting against. More than 5,500 people voted, far more than the roughly 3,200 average, officials said. Voters also voted out two of three incumbents who were up for re-election.

Board members are not expected to vote on a final revote proposal until at least this evening, when another meeting is scheduled at 6 p.m. In case more time is needed, another meeting has been called for Thursday.

The new proposal must be approved by June 4.

The proposal from Salvaggio also included $200,000 in estimated savings from outsourcing the district’s student transportation, a move she noted carried a potential risk.

The transportation outsourcing would come after an impasse was declared in negotiations with the union representing drivers. A unilateral move could be challenged in court, but it would be a challenge district officials believe would be defensible.

Among the other cuts proposed by Salvaggio was 1.6 full-time-equivalent positions from sixth-grade foreign language instruction.

That proposal was met with concern from the board because it would directly impact instruction.

“That’s the hardest for me to stomach,” board member Debbie Gordon said.

Board members chose to hold off on voting on the foreign language proposed cuts until seeing an alternative proposal.

On the revenue side, district officials also saw improvement, announcing $275,000 in extra “bullet” aid from state Sen. Hugh Farley. That’s in addition to $100,000 announced earlier from Assemblyman Phil Steck.

Officials are budgeting $200,000 of that money into the proposed spending plan, taking into consideration that it’s one-time aid.

District officials were also able to negotiate $100,000 in rental income from a local company to use unused space at the district’s bus garage.

At the outset of the meeting, board members heard from several members of the community outlining their concerns and observations of the budget vote.

Resident Lyle Barlyn called the board’s original budget proposal risky and “poorly thought out.”

Barlyn noted the risk now is even greater. A “no” vote June 18 means more than $2 million in further reductions that will punish the students.

Resident Sunny Lee said she is hopeful the budget will pass but said that she wants to see something from the board “other than sticking a finger in the dike to stop the water from flowing.”

Asked about the 3.95 percent tax levy increase in the revised budget, some board members thought it should go lower to ensure passage.

Board members also expressed a preference for cuts to stay out of the classroom.

“I think the focus has to be on the academic programs,” board member Barbara Mauro said, adding, “that’s what we’re here for.”

 
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