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NISKAYUNA: Aid lowers levy

Local taxpayers will benefit from changes to the annual school budget in Niskayuna that chip away at a proposed tax hike approved by the district's board last month. The changes use $351,000 in state aid to lower the levy so that the average tax bill will go up by just 4.25 percent if voters approve the plan in the May 15 budget vote.

An additional $409,000 in new state aid will be set aside to bolster the district's fund balance so that it can be used to hold down taxes as Niskayuna goes through its reassessment process, said Matthew Bourgeois, the district's assistant superintendent for finance.

We have already done everything we can to reduce class sizes, and until we complete our current construction project, there is really no room available in our schools to lower class sizes any further, said Bourgeois. "So the school board decided that it was best to lower the tax rate and do some longer term financial planning."

Under the $63.2 million budget for next school year slated to go before voters, several new courses and staff positions that were cut back in recent years will be restored. They include a director of counseling for kindergarten through 12th grades and an additional assistant vice principal for the high school. Full funding is available for Project Lead the Way, a highly touted pre-engineering program that gives students hands-on learning opportunities encouraging them to pursue technology-based careers. Money is also in the budget to pay for a new emergency notification system that district officials believe will contact parents quickly and efficiently in case of an unexpected school closure.

The reduction in the proposed school tax increase brings it well below last year's nearly 7 percent level, and school board president Barbara Mauro said it is part of an effort to ease the burden on property owners in the Niskayuna district.

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