COLONIE — Due to spikes in enrollment, the North Colonie Central School District needs money for 7.4 new teachers in its 2019-20 spending plan and are projecting the need for another 10 in 2020-21.
But, said Superintendent Joseph Corr, the district is committed to staying within the tax cap next year, which is, based on a number of variables including the Consumer Price Index, growth and taxable values and PILOT programs, a tax levy increase of no more than 3.38 percent.
That number is the maximum increase residents would face, but because the process is just beginning and a number of meetings and hearings have yet been held, a firm number has not yet been established.
This year’s budgetary process, as in year’s past, is heavily contingent upon how much aid it will get from the state, and a firm state aid number will not come until the governor and the Legislature pass a spending plan sometime around April 1. The governor has proposed a $956 million increase statewide, a 3 percent increase. But the Legislature has, historically, added more money to that pot, and how much of that each school district gets is always an open question.
Further frustrating local school districts are two factors, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind, and how the district reports expenditures to the state, a law known as the New York Transparency Act.
“We are entering a new area and equity is driving ESSA and New York transparency Act,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business Scott Hoot. “All districts must report expenditures by each school building and it is tied to federal aid.”
The logic is to prevent district from funneling money to certain parts of the districts rather than spreading resources out across the district in an equitable fashion. While it is geared towards states with larger districts, county-wide school districts for example, it will still have an impact on local districts. Failure to report by Dec. 31, could result in the state withholding aid that is critical to any school district’s budget.
“We have always budgeted this way,” Corr said. But, this is a new and different requirement that has had an enormous impact on our process.”
Next year, more changes in how state aid is distributed will likely have a more profound impact on school districts, especially what are considered low-needs districts like North Colonie.
“Right now it’s a proposal and not a fact and there will be no impact on the educational budget for 2019-20,” Corr said. “But if the state were to consolidate expenditure aid and apply a different formula as proposed it would have a negative impact and over time there would be a cost shifting back to the local property owners.”
In the 2020-21 school year the most dramatic shift to happen in North Colonie in recent memory will occur — sixth graders will no longer attend elementary school and instead will go to a newly configured middle school.
Until that happens, the elementary schools are bursting at the seams. From the 2014-15 school year to what is projected in 2019-20, enrollment has spiked from 2,524 to 3,036. And, it is considerable at all six schools:
• Blue Creek has gone from 496 students to 530
• Boght Hills has gone from 460 to 601
•Forts Ferry has gone from 454 to 566
• Latham Ridge has gone from 415 to 548
• Loudonville has gone from 295 to 328
• Southgate has gone from 404 to 490
“The families keep coming and coming and coming and we are really running out of room. We are fortunate because that is not the case for a lot of school districts in upstate New York,” said Deputy Superintendent Kathleen Skeals. “We are one year away from getting the sixth grade to the middle school and it can’t happen soon enough. Class sizes are large not because we can’t hire teachers, but because we don’t have the room.”
The 7.4 new teachers this year, and 10 next year, represent what the district feels it will need to accommodate the enrollment spike and does not include any new program initiatives, should any be forthcoming as the budget works its way through the process.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a kindergarten teacher in North Colonie starts out at $25,810 and tops out at $81,450; an elementary school teacher starts at $37,230 and tops out at $88,660; in the middle school a teacher starts at $43,420 and tops out at $89,770; while a teacher starts out at $41,200 and tops out at $89,400.
That does not include benefits.
In 2014, the district employed 429 teachers, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
The 7.4 new teachers are also just for mainstream academic classes, Skeals said, and does not factor in the specialty areas like art, music physical education or special education needs.
The next Budget Committee meeting will be March 18 at 7 p.m. in the Central Office on Fiddlers Lane.