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Guilderland school board OKs $92M budget

Spending plan within tax cap, largely unchanged from superintendent’s initial proposal

Westmere Elementary School kindergarten teacher Amy McFarren, speaking into the microphone, urges Guilderland Board of Education members to not reduce teaching assistants at that grade level on Tuesday, April 8.

Westmere Elementary School kindergarten teacher Amy McFarren, speaking into the microphone, urges Guilderland Board of Education members to not reduce teaching assistants at that grade level on Tuesday, April 8. Photo by John Purcell.

— Little has changed from Guilderland Superintendent of Schools Marie Wiles’ proposed spending plan for next school year in the adopted budget.

After several budget meetings an unexpected expense emerged, but increased state aid offset the cost with some funds leftover.

The Guilderland Board of Education on Tuesday, April 8, unanimously adopted a 2014-15 budget totaling slightly more than $92.13 million, which increases spending around $1.1 million, or 1.22 percent. The budget falls under the district’s state imposed tax cap, with a $12,500 cushion before its limit, and holds a property tax levy increase of 1.94 percent.

Board members keep the budget similar to the original proposal, but added two more full-time equivalent (FTE) unassigned teachers for five total.

Board President Barbara Fraterrigo hoped voters would approve the budget on May 20 because board members were mindful of the tax burden facing homeowners. She said the district “wouldn’t even consider” exceeding the tax cap.

“We have been so careful with their dollars and trying to do the best for the community as well as the kids,” Fraterrigo said after the meeting.

The unassigned teaching positions could be allocated to break up oversized classes, with five classrooms at the brink. The teachers could also be assigned anywhere across the district where more support is needed.

Teaching assistants reduction

One of the more contentious reductions was cutting eight FTE kindergarten teaching assistants, which would leave three hours of support for each section. There are currently six hours for each teaching assistant.

“After a few years of full-day kindergarten, it was evident our kindergartens were performing at higher levels than in previous years,” said Amy McFarren, a kindergarten teacher at Westmere. “We meet these heightened demands through small group instruction, which was only made possible with two full-time professionals.”

McFarren claimed students would no longer meet standards in reading, writing and math with the teaching assistant reduction. Two fellow Westmere teachers, Jennifer Krell and Julia Shudt, joined in lobbying against the cut, along with the parent of a kindergartener.

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