Niskayuna Central School District officials have tallied more than $4 million in reductions for the 2012-13 budget, but a little more must be cut to stay within the tax cap.
The Niskayuna Board of Education, along with district officials, discussed proposed reductions for next school year’s budget during its meeting on Tuesday, March 20. Superintendent Susan Salvaggio outlined the 41 reductions proposed for the district, which includes eliminating more than 80 full-time equivalent positions calculated from rough estimates. The district is still determining the exact amount of positions slated for elimination.
“From the very start of this conversation about the budget … it has been the goal of the administrative team to try and show the board what living within the tax threshold would look like and what it would require,” Salvaggio said.
Even with the currently proposed level 1 cuts, the district still needs to cut another $36,000 to remain under its tax levy threshold of 3.29 percent. Level 2 reductions, which are not recommended by Salvaggio, include closing either one of five elementary schools or a middle school, which respectively is estimated to save $475,000 or $615,000.
Staffing to enrollment districtwide accounts for the largest amount of reductions totaling nearly $2.36 million, or 58.2 percent of all reductions. Reducing 800 hours per week for teaching assistants will save $450,000, which is around 26 FTE positions. Middle school staffing would also be reduced by 8.7 FTE positions for $478,500 in savings. Also, high school staffing would be reduced by 7.7 FTE positions based on course enrollment for $423,500 in savings.
Senior student and Vice President of Model United Nations Kristjan Salasoo said the club typically attends two conferences each year, but because of new policies regarding field trips, this year’s trip could be the club’s last.
“While I agree we all must share in filling in the budget gap, this is not the way to go about doing it,” Salasoo said. “These conferences are extremely educational and provide great experiences for our students. I would argue that they involve the same amount of work, if not more, as the semester class.”
Salasoo also said the proposed reductions to teachers district wide was “disheartening” to him. He said the quality of education offered and the variety of opportunities outside the classroom is what makes the district great.
“The teachers in this district are among the best and the most dedicated in the nation,” he said. “The loss of these teachers will greatly reduce the variety of subjects we have available, the high quality education afforded to each individual student and will increase the class sizes to ineffective numbers.”
Six combined classrooms, placing together two adjacent grades, is also expected to save $330,000 and eliminate six FTE positions.
Board member Barbara Mauro expressed concern over four of the 12 kindergarten classrooms reaching 24 students. Also, she was concerned about having one combined classroom of kindergarten and first-grade.
“I am uncomfortable with the 24 and I feel like we made a really big decision as a board last week to have full-day K … we want to give it our all to make sure it is really the experience we want it to be,” Mauro said. “I just want to give it the best shot we can and staying within the guidelines is one way we can do that.”
Deborah Shea, assistant superintendent of Educational Programs and Instruction, admitted 24 students in a kindergarten classroom wasn’t “ideal” but was confident it wouldn’t have negative results.
“I have such confidence in our teachers that I know they can handle that,” Shea said. “I have also set aside some of our circular money for our teachers to come together to try and overcome some of those obstacles.”
Programs slated for elimination include Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools, Freshman Health Seminar at the high school, Speech and Debate and the Explorers program, which results in saving around $210,000.