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Niskayuna school board approves 2014-15 budget

Spending plan hikes tax levy 2.34 percent

Wednesday, April 9, 2014
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Seth Hanft of Niskayuna, addresses the Niskayuna School Board at Van Antwerp Middle School Tuesday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Seth Hanft of Niskayuna, addresses the Niskayuna School Board at Van Antwerp Middle School Tuesday.

— The Niskayuna Board of Education approved a 2014-2015 budget to send to voters Tuesday night, a plan that calls for a 2.34 percent tax levy increase.

The budget also includes restored funding for freshman sports, which were cut in last year’s budget. The board voted 6-0 to fund freshman sports up to $40,000, enough to return them to the previous level.

The restoration came after some parents spoke out during public comment to put freshman sports back in the plan.

The board also heard from some parents questioning Friday’s decision to approve a separation agreement to part ways with Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio.

They questioned the $139,000 payout as well as how the agreement was approved. The board voted 4 to 3 to approve the deal at a meeting, of which the media wasn’t notified, held early Friday morning.

On the budget, the board settled on the 2.34 percent increase using a portion of $530,000 in unexpected state aid. The figure was reduced from the originally proposed 2.81 percent. The state tax cap for Niskayuna for the coming season is 4.92 percent.

The remainder will go toward savings for possible future expenditures, said Matthew Bourgeois, assistant superintendent for business.

“We’re trying to be cognizant of the needs of our students and community by trying to put forth a balanced approach,” Bourgeois said, “and hopefully this will accomplish that.”

The board voted to restore freshman sports after noting that other schools Niskayuna plays largely have kept freshman sports. The thought last year was that other schools were moving away from it.

Board members restored the funding while also committing to look into other funding mechanisms.

Board member Barbara Mauro noted there is no state aid on such expenditures.

“We have to have a community conversation about the funding of sports and try to get alternative revenue streams,” Mauro said.

Board members said at least one local school district partially funds freshman sports, while boosters fund the rest.

Speaking in favor of restoring funding for freshman sports was parent Marta Ozisik.

“All I am asking is that you seriously consider giving that small $40,000 amount and a great deal of joy back to the most important people in our Niskayuna Central School District, our kids,” Ozisik said.

Superintendent Salvaggio wasn’t at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Parent Priti Irani questioned why the special meeting at 8 a.m. Friday was needed when the board already had Tuesday night’s meeting scheduled just four days later.

The scheduling, she said, gave the appearance that it was done on purpose, to get the least amount of community involvement possible.

“That, to me, is of great concern,” Irani said.

Irani also questioned the clause in the agreement preventing the board from speaking ill of Salvaggio.

“If you’re not able to explain why, what made her submit her resignation, why some of you voted to accept it, why some of you voted not to accept it, that’s like a wound that will fester,” Irani said.

Irani got loud applause from those in the audience.

A district statement on Salvaggio’s departure, agreed to by both sides, acknowledged disagreements and “philosophical differences” between the board and Salvaggio. It did not detail those further.

The board is expected to name an interim superintendent in the coming weeks, with an acting superintendent leading the district in the meantime.

Parent Seth Hanft also questioned the deal. He said the board was “clearly dysfunctional.”

He focused on the $139,000 buyout and compared it with the estimated $40,000 needed to restore freshman sports. He also supported restoration of freshman sports.

Hanft noted the board’s 4-2 vote last June to extend Salvaggio’s contract by a year. Had her contract not been extended it would have expired in June.

“Now that imprudent extension of her contract has come home to roost with $139,000 of our money,” Hanft said.

 
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