Cast your ballot and let your voice be heard

To the Editor:

On Tuesday, May 20, Guilderland Central School District residents will head to the polls to vote on a $92,132,900 budget for the 2014-15 school year. This proposed budget represents an increase in spending of $1,109,700 (+1.22 percent) over the current year’s budget.

If approved by voters, it would result in a 1.94 percent tax-levy increase in the coming year — below the district’s maximum allowable tax levy limit as calculated under the state’s “tax cap” formula. Tax rates are estimated to increase by the same amount for residents of the town of Guilderland. In addition, voters will elect three members to the board of education and decide on a bus and equipment proposition.

As we began planning for the 2014-15 school year, we faced a $2.1 million revenue gap — the result of rising costs, reduced education aid through the Gap Elimination Adjustment, and the property-tax levy limit. Still, despite these challenges, the spending plan going before voters in May maintains nearly all existing learning opportunities and extracurricular programs for students.

The proposed budget, adopted on April 8, calls for the reduction of 33.85 full-time equivalent staffing positions from across the entire district — many of which are a result of a decline in enrollment or a decrease in necessary services. Among these staffing changes is the reduction of kindergarten teaching assistant support from six hours per day to three hours per day, a topic widely discussed throughout the past several weeks.

The plan maintains existing levels of first-grade teaching assistant support, high school guidance counselor support, and assistant coaching positions; increases reading teacher support at the elementary level; introduces BOCES [Board of Cooperative Educational Services] enrichment mini-courses at the elementary and middle school levels and distance learning classes at the high school; and calls for a restructuring of the high school “X” program, which utilizes a co-teaching model to integrate English and social studies into one class.

We believe that the budget going before voters later this month will enable the district to meet its mission in a way that is financially responsible to our residents.

Once again, our community has played a pivotal role in helping to define what matters most in these times of limited resources.  We sincerely thank everyone who attended our meetings, provided feedback, and/or who advocated to our elected officials on our students’ behalf. However, just because the budget has been adopted does not mean that the time for feedback and questions is over.

I encourage all district residents to continue to ask questions about the proposed spending plan by calling, e-mailing, or attending upcoming board of education and Parent-Teacher Association meetings. I would also like to invite community groups to contact the district if they would like me or a school board member to attend an upcoming meeting to answer questions about the 2014-15 budget and what it means for our children and our residents.

Most importantly, I urge all eligible voters to head to the polls on May 20. Your vote is the most concrete feedback you can give on the proposed budget. Please cast your ballot and let your voice be heard.

For more information on the 2014-15 school budget vote and board of education election, please visit www.guilderlandschools.org.

Marie Wiles, superintendent
Guilderland Central School District

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Great thanks must be extended to the memory and spirits of Emma Treadwell and John Boyd Thacher.