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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, March 5, 2009
GCSD plans $85M budget
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND As the recession deepens, the school superintendent here proposed an $85 million budget Tuesday night that cuts 47 jobs.
The spending plan, which will be reviewed in televised sessions this month by three dozen citizen volunteers mostly parents represents a 1.35-percent increase over the current budget. But, because of a proposed $2.7 million cut in state aid, taxes would increase by an estimated 3.89 percent.
The school board is slated to adopt a proposal on April 7 and voters will have their say on May 19. This year’s budget was approved by about two-thirds of the 3,185 district residents who voted.
The plan for next year would cut 17 teachers, 27 teaching assistants, a bus driver, a nurse, and a supervisor.
Superintendent John McGuire told The Enterprise after Tuesday’s session that retiring staff members make up “only a portion” of those slated to be cut.
“I’ve already had individual meetings,” he said, noting the dismissals will be “based on seniority.”
McGuire said of the staff members being laid off, “They’re sad but they understand. This is happening to school districts across the state.”
Guilderland is making its cuts across the board, McGuire stressed, “balancing across areas,” and reducing from full-time to part-time where possible.
“We’ve looked at every area of operation in all levels in the district,” he said.
The cuts, McGuire said, are fueled by three factors declining enrollment, economics, and “our responsibility to be cost effective.”
The budget framers are not looking at the cuts in state revenues as just a one-year situation, McGuire said.
Teaching assistants would take the biggest hit. They had staged a protest in December as, at an impasse in contract negotiations, they said they are paid significantly less than their counterparts in other local districts.
Fifteen of the 27.25 teaching assistant posts to be cut next year are in special education.
“We can provide comparable support with less teaching assistants,” said Stephen Hadden, administrator for special services. Some assistants at the middle school and high school who now work with one special-needs student will be working with two next year, he said.
At the elementary schools, he said, special-needs students will be grouped in the same classroom with perhaps fewer students in the class. Since the assistants then won’t have to consult with as many teachers, said Hadden, “It will give them more time with students.”
The district expects to serve 772 students with disabilities next year, about 14 percent of Guilderland’s students, Hadden said. Ninety percent of them are in district-operated programs, 6 percent in BOCES placements, and 4 percent in private placements.
The district is predicting that enrollment will be down 28 elementary students next year and 50 high school students, while the middle school gains seven pupils. Overall, Guilderland is expected to have 5,252 students next year, 71 fewer than this year.
The budget calls for cutting elementary teachers by six-and-a-half, middle-school teachers by 7.8, and high-school teachers by 2.7.
The district currently has 829 full-time and 208 part-time workers; this includes 521 teachers.
“This budget does not call for an increase in class-size guidelines,” said McGuire, but classes will be more filled.
The guidelines call for kindergarten, first, and second grades to have 18 to 22 students, and for third, fourth, and fifth grades to have 20 to 24 students in each class.
Currently, kindergarten classes average 16.6 students; first grade, 17.2; and second grade 18.2. Next year, the projected averages are 18.8 for kindergarten, 19 for first grade, and 19.4 for second grade.
Currently, third-grade classes average 20.7 pupils; fourth grade, 21; and fifth grade, 22.3. Next year, the projected averages are 20.9 for third grade, 22.3 for fourth grade, and 22.6 for fifth grade.
At the middle school, sixth-grade classes currently average 24.31 students; seventh grade, 22.06; and eighth grade, 22.67. Next year, the projected averages are 25.44 for seventh grade, 24.94 for seventh grade, and 24.75 for eighth grade.
“There are more unknowns than knowns,” said McGuire of revenues as he went over the assumptions used by the budget framers.
The budget assumes that the $2.7 million cut proposed by governor David Paterson in December will be upheld by the legislature, meaning about 24 percent of the budget would be covered by state aid.
This year, about 28 percent of the budget was covered by state aid.
Two parts of the federal stimulus package could relate to Guilderland’s revenues. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is expected to bring $1.1 million over the next two years to the district. “We’ve built in an assumption of $500,000,” said McGuire of next year’s budget.
The second avenue would be through stabilization funds. New York is expected to receive just over $3 billion, said McGuire, but it may come “with strings attached.” He went on, “We’re not banking on any of that until we get more information.”
The district plans to use $2.3 million from its fund balance, still leaving $2 million in the rainy-day account.
The district is also assuming that there will be no increase in property assessments in the town of Guilderland.
Close to three-quarters of the budget goes for salaries and fringe benefits.
Contracted raises, including five teacher retirements, accounts for an increase of $311,128, and increased costs for employee benefits accounts for another added $654,000.
An increase of 10 percent is projected in health-insurance premiums.
The rate the district has to pay into the Teachers’ Retirement System will decrease from 7.63 percent to 6.2 percent. “That’s one of the few numbers we know at this time,” said McGuire. Also, the rates for the Employees’ Retirement System will decrease from 8.2 percent to 7.2 percent.
The average salary for teachers at Guilderland is $62,705, said Lin Severance, the assistant superintendent for human resources. She went on to outline the costs for a teacher at three different stages.
A starting teacher, with a bachelor’s degree and no experience, earns $43,500. Accounting for the district’s payment to the retirement system, for Social Security, and for health insurance for a single person, the district pays $55,225 for a new teacher.
Similarly, the district pays $69,478 for a teacher with five years’ experience, who is tenured with a master’s degree; that teacher’s salary is $47,114.
Finally, the district pays $102,055 for a teacher with 23 years of experience, which includes health insurance for a family; that teacher's salary is $72,773.
Altogether, salaries and fringe benefits next year will cost $63.6 million, nearly a million dollars more than this year.
The proposed budget continues to support the teaching of Spanish in the elementary schools; a grade is being added each year. And it supports, Project Lead the Way, a pre-engineering program at the high school by adding another course at a cost of $39,205.
The budget also continues to support Tech Valley High School. Guilderland now has two students at the innovative experimental high school and is slated to send a third next year. (Since the BOCES tuition has decreased from $18,000 to $12,000, three students will be able to go to Tech Valley High next year for the cost of two this year.)
The budget does not include extra funds to upgrade the kindergarten program from half-day to full-day. The school board had backed the move this fall, if finances had allowed for it. The annual cost after the first year, which would be covered by state aid, could range from about $600,000 to over $800,000. (For the full story, go to www.altamontenterprise.com under Guilderland archives for Nov. 13, 2008.)
A committee that had researched the subject strongly recommended the full-day program. “The recommendation was well-received,” McGuire said Tuesday night. “And then the world changed.” He reconvened the committee, which “agreed it wasn’t timely,” he said. “It could serve as a lightning rod that could ultimately sabotage its viability.”
The current true-value tax rate for Guilderland is $15.43 per $1,000 of assessed value, which puts it fifth among the 13 Suburban Council districts; the average is $15.63.
“True value tax rate is representative of the entire town,” said Neil Sanders, assistant superintendent for business.
Guilderland’s cost per pupil is $15,747, slightly above the Suburban Council average of $15,710.
For Guilderland residents, the average annual tax-rate increase for the last five years was 3.15 percent.
“What is the tax rate?” school board President Richard Weisz asked at Tuesday’s budget session. “The real honest answer is, we don’t know.”
Still, the district worked up an estimate based on the assumptions outlined by McGuire.
For the $84,953,200 spending plan, the district estimates that $59,141,482 will come from local property taxes.
This means Guilderland residents would pay $20.13 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which is 75 cents per $1,000 more than last year.
So a Guilderland resident with a home valued at $100,000 would pay $2,013 in taxes.
While Guilderland makes up the lion’s share of the district, parts of three other towns are also included. If the district’s assumptions held true, Bethlehem residents would pay $17.34 per $1,000, an increase of 65 cents; New Scotland residents would pay $17.05, an increase of 64 cents; and Knox residents would pay $30.24, an increase of $1.13.