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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 8, 2012


Keeps tax levy under cap
GCSD super proposed $89M budget, cutting 30 jobs

GUILDERLAND — After months of board discussion and several community forums, Superintendent Marie Wiles on March 1 presented her $89 million budget for the next school year.

“We always consider the impact on children first,” said Wiles of how the budget was drafted. “We get calls concerned we’ll lose the heart and soul of Guilderland.”

By examining the shape of the school day — reconfiguring the high school without an advisory period and the middle school without a tutorial period — and analyzing the leadership structure — cutting two administrative posts — Wiles minimized the reductions to programs. She relied on data to assess how student needs were being met, and also made cuts based on declining enrollment.

Her spending plan is just $153,425 higher than this year, an increase of .17 percent. With a rollover budget, keeping the same staff and programs as this year, Guilderland faced a $2.6 million budget gap if it were to keep the tax levy under the new state-set cap.

Because of a decrease in federal aid and increased salary, pension, and health-insurance costs, Wiles’s plan calls for cutting another 30 jobs. This follows the cutting of close to 100 jobs in the previous two years.

Three-quarters of the budget, typical of all schools, is for salaries and benefits, which, Wiles said, “tells the story of why so many of the reductions we make have to be people.”

The district currently has eight open contracts with its bargaining units; it is at impasse with its two largest unions.

“This is not easy, this is not fun…People feel sad,” said Wiles. “I feel sad…We’re dismantling years of planning and development…We need to keep thinking about what the future will bring.”

On the revenue side, in addition to nearly $21 million in state aid and Medicaid, the budget uses $2.45 million of appropriated fund balance.

The estimated tax levy for the $89,114,900 plan would be $63,548,660; that falls under the state-set levy cap, which for the Guilderland School District, based on the state’s formula, is 2.57 percent. Had the proposal gone over the cap, with another $48,000 or more in expenditures, the budget would need to be approved by at least 60 percent of the voters. Guilderland hasn’t passed a budget with more than 60 percent of the vote since the recession began in 2008.

Under the new law, if the budget were to be defeated, no increase in taxes would be allowed, meaning more reductions would have to be made. The vote is on May 15.

The tax-rate hike over this year is estimated at 2.5 percent, Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders told The Enterprise this week. Details on the budget are posted online at the district’s website: www.guilderlandschools.org.

The estimated tax rate for Guilderland residents would be $21.20 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, so a Guilderland resident who lives in a $100,000 home would pay $2,120 in taxes. The school district, which falls mostly in the town of Guilderland, also has small pieces in three other towns. The estimated rate for Bethlehem residents is $18.85, for New Scotland residents is $19.05, and for Knox residents is $32.08; Knox has not done a town-wide revaluation of property in years.

“Finding a balance?”

As she did last year, her first year as Guilderland’s supervisor, Wiles discussed budget cuts organized in quadrants — academic programs; enhanced educational opportunities; health, social/emotional, and academic support services; and educational support services. These are the same quadrants that people attending the “Community Conversations” were asked to discuss in small groups.

While Wiles said the public feedback was meaningful, she concluded, “We can’t, however, make everybody happy; people have different perspectives.”

This year, a “rationale key” was provided to describe the reason behind each cut.

Nearly half of the savings, 48 percent, came from “rethinking, restructuring,” said Wiles — 31 percent of that came from the way time in the school day would be used, 8 percent from the way leaders are deployed, and 9 percent from restructuring.

Another 27 percent came from an analysis of data on student needs; 20 percent of cuts were made because of declining enrollment. That left just 5 percent of “additional reductions…things we had to cut to close the gap,” said Wiles, stressing that her budget proposal features “transformation, not elimination.”

Throughout her presentation on March 1, Wiles stressed “finding a balance.” She said that, across the district, 39 percent of the cuts were at the high school, 25 percent were at the elementary level, 17 percent at the middle school, and 19 percent of the cuts were district-wide.

Close to 17 teachers (16.7 full-time equivalents) would lose their jobs; this accounts for 3.7 percent of all Guilderland teachers. For teaching assistants, 5.7 percent or 7.4 would lose their jobs; for administrators, 5.4 percent or 1.6 would be cut; and 4.25 other support staff, or 1.5 percent, would be cut.

Cuts to the quadrants

Wiles went over, in detail, the cuts to each of the quadrants:

— Academic programs, which make up 27 percent of the total budget: The biggest savings, of $210,000, comes from moving the middle school to an eight-period, rather than a nine-period, day. With the elimination of the tutorial period, Wiles said, “Students will get the help they need” at different times.

Because of reduced enrollment at the high school, science sections are being cut to save $77,000; social studies to save $70,000; and English to save another $70,000. Similarly, reducing foreign-language sections at the middle school would save $28,000;

— Enhanced educational opportunities, which make up 23 percent of the budget: The largest savings, $140,000, comes from eliminating the elementary and middle school enrichment teachers. (See related story.)

Wiles said enrichment will take place during the day with the “differentiation of curriculum” so that instruction is tailored individually for both struggling and advanced students, and also that the high-school model will be followed, where students participate in clubs and a wide variety of programs.

Due to schedule changes, physical education sections will be cut at the high school, saving $77,000, and art sections will be cut at the elementary level, saving $63,000.

The other cuts are due to declining enrollment: cutting a district-wide music teacher position will save $14,000; reducing technology sections at the high school will save $14,000; and reducing health, art, and business sections at the high school will save $7,000 each for a total of $21,000;

— Health, social/emotional, and academic support services, which make up 35 percent of the budget: The biggest savings, of $114,000, is based on data — the reduction of one-and-a-half social-worker positions at the elementary school. With the reduction, there will be one social worker for every 624 students at Guilderland. Wiles cited the United States Department of Education recommendation of one for every 800 students and the School Social Work Associates of America recommendation of one for every 400 students. She also said that lessons on social skills would be taught in the classroom.

Data-driven changes include: reducing teaching assistant hours for reading and math support at the elementary level to save $103,680; reducing occupational-therapist hours district-wide to save $28,000; reducing speech-therapist hours district-wide to save $63,000; cutting half a social-worker job at the high school to save $38,000; cutting an occupational therapy assistant district-wide to save $49,915; and cutting physical-therapist hours district-wide to save $28,000.

Schedule changes led to cutting a teaching assistant for reading at the high school, to save $30,000.

Restructuring led to cutting two teaching assistants at the high school, saving $57,200, and six-tenths of a TA post for counseling at the high school, saving $18,000; and

— Educational support services, which make up 15 percent of the budget: The largest savings, of $92,500, comes from eliminating a special-education administrator and reassigning coordination of the elementary-level Committee on Preschool Special Education.

The superintendent’s proposal also calls for eliminating the post of assistant director for physical education, health, and athletics, to save $71,460.

Savings from restructuring include reducing technology support district-wide to save $23,000; cutting a clerical job at the high school to save $35,000; and cutting half of a clerical job at the district office to save $23,000.

A bus-driver’s job is also being cut, for a savings of $32,840, and a quarter of a post for driver trainer to save $12,590.

— By Melissa Hale-Spencer


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