North Colonie braces for tough times

Meeting’s audience supports exceeding tax cap to meet fiscal challenges

— Months before the school budget goes to vote, administrators in the North Colonie Central School District are waving a red flag to the community and bracing for another expected decline in state educational aid.

Nearly 100 North Colonie residents, students, parents and teachers filled the Shaker High School Media Center on Monday, Jan. 14, to hear the problems that lay before the district in the coming years. North Colonie Superintendent Joseph Corr led a presentation on budget sustainability, naming numerous reasons — including a decline in state aid and employer-contribution rate increases in the Teacher and Employment Retirement System — that are leading to a financial imbalance for the district.

Corr said being in the Capital District, North Colonie is still in a “better spot” than most of the country, but the cuts in education aid have greatly affected the schools. While the state aid used to be around $20 million, it has dropped by $4 million over the past few years. Although there are major mandates coming in, including the Common Core Learning Standards and the Dignity for All Students Act, there won’t be enough money to fund them.

“Gradual reform coupled with restricted abilities to raise money … has made this an enormously challenging time. The perfect storm, if you will,” Corr said. “The issues that we face are substantial.”

Enrollment in the district has been on the decline, a trend administrators project will continue. By the 2016-17 school year, enrollment is projected to have dropped from the current level by 300 students, to an enrollment of 5,162 students.

What makes the issue particularly grave, Corr said, is the potential to draw down the district’s fund balance. The district started the 2011-12 school year with a $13.8 million fund balance but had to take more than $700,000 out to cover expenditures. Looking at the coming years, it is projected that use of the fund balance will significantly increase, up to $6 million by 2015, resulting in a negative remaining fund balance in that year.

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