A floating nurse is added to GCSD budget wish list

— Still frame from March 26, 2024 Guilderland School Board meeting

“Having a float nurse who is familiar with our students who require more complex medical treatments is vital to their safety,” Angela Salavantis tells the Guilderland School Board.

GUILDERLAND — As Guilderland, like school districts across the state, waits for final numbers on aid from the state budget, board members here added to their “wish list” on Tuesday should more funds become available.

The state budget is due by April 1 and the state-set voting date for school budgets is May 21. A delayed state budget makes it tough for school districts to draft their proposals as they face deadlines for posting legal notices.

Governor Kathy Hochul issued a statement on Tuesday, saying she was delivering a bill to the legislature to extend the deadline to April 4 and said, “For weeks, I have been negotiating with the Legislature to craft a budget that makes record investments for New Yorkers while putting the State on a fiscally stable path into the future.”

“Right now, best estimates are saying that the state budget won’t be done until … the eighth of April but more likely the 15th,” Guilderland Superintendent Marie Wiles told the school board on Tuesday.

The next day, April 16, the Guilderland board is scheduled to adopt the spending plan on which voters will decide.

While the much-discussed provision to keep funding steady for districts with declining enrollment does not affect Guilderland, the suburban district would be affected by Hochul’s plan to change how interest is calculated for Foundation Aid.

If the formula remains as it was this year, Guilderland would get about $350,000 more than it had planned on in drafting its $125 million budget for next year.

On Tuesday, Guilderland added a “float nurse” to its wish list if more aid comes through.

The district had used some of its federal funds, meant to help with pandemic expenses, to hire an extra nurse since there were added needs with vaccinations. Those federal funds run out next fall.

Asked where on the list the float nurse would fall, Superintendent Marie Wiles said, “Ultimately, where it fits on the list is up to the board … You get to make your priorities and it comes down to how much room there is to make a choice.”

At recent school board meetings, several nurses have spoken out about how valuable it is to have an extra nurse on staff who can “float” to various buildings as needed.

On Tuesday, the board heard from nurse Angela Salavantis who said, among other advantages, “Having a float nurse who is familiar with our students who require more complex medical treatments is vital to their safety. In addition many of our high-need students have limited ability to communicate their needs or their complaints.”

This was backed up by special-education teacher Abigail Riley who said the needs of her high school students “ranged from daily administration of controlled substances, frequent evaluations for sickness, oftentimes from students who have communications needs, to assistance with personal-care needs that we just can’t simply accommodate in our ow classroom.”

Riley went on, “It has been said that, because enrollment is down, there is no longer a need for the float nurse. But from my experience in special education, it is not the number that matters so much as the level of need.”

Wiles responded that the elimination of the post wasn’t because of declining enrollment; rather, it was simply that the federal funds for the position would run out.

Answering a earlier request from the school board on the cost difference between the district hiring its own float nurse as opposed to turning to an agency when an extra nurse is needed, Wiles said, a full-time float nurse, including salary and benefits, would cost the district a little over $80,000, similar to a teacher, while this year the district has spent about $6,000 for contract nurses.

Late in the meeting, Guilderland resident Elizabeth Floyd Mair asked if one of the four posts the district has built into the budget for extra teachers could be used for a nurse instead. Wiles said, while that might be possible, those posts are generally used up meeting fluctuating classroom needs.

Board member Kimberly Blasiak noted that, if the district went that route, it would be in the same position a year hence since the float-nurse post still wouldn’t be permanently funded.

Board member Blanca Gonzalez-Parker said, speaking as a nurse, “It takes nurses time to get acclimated and it takes time for you to build a rapport with your patients …. It’s almost a disservice to have somebody who isn’t familiar with the student population.”

She concluded, “I do understand the terrible situation we are in economically. Would it be fair to say that this is an example of something that we cannot provide due to the tax certiorari issues that we’re facing in case anyone from the town board is listening?”


Financial woes

Later in the meeting, all eight members of the board who were present voted in favor of a bond resolution not to exceed $4,999,467 to refund money the district had collected in taxes from Crossgates Mall.

The town of Guilderland and Pyramid, owner of Crossgates, recently settled a case, which lowered the mall’s assessment, requiring the refund.

The district’s assistant superintendent for business, Andrew Van Alstyne, said the $4.99 million included both the library’s and the school district’s paybacks. The school district’s refund alone is about $4.75 million.

“I wish we didn’t have to,” said board member Judy Slack.

“This is absolutely terrible and we have no choice,” said Gonzalez-Parker.

Adding to the district’s financial distress, Wiles reported that some of the bids for energy costs came in higher than expected.

Since she presented her draft 2024-25 budget on March 5, Wiles said, “It looks like our electric costs will go up approximately $100,000 more than we had anticipated.”

“At this point,” said Wiles, “we’ve really allocated everything that we know that we can cover with our local resources, staying within the tax cap.”

Because Slack had asked earlier about the contribution from Guilderland’s solar array, Wiles said she checked with Clifford Nooney, who oversees the district’s buildings and grounds.

“He said if we did not have that farm, this increase we would have felt to the tune of $250,000. So while the number is big,” Wiles said, “this investment we made with the solar farm really is helping us stay on the better side of a not-great situation.”

The board’s vice president, Kelly Person, asked if the district’s Future-Ready Task Force was going to include solar as part of plans for future learning spaces.

Wiles responded, defining the role of the Future-Ready Task Force, “We’re really talking about the teaching and learning parts of the capital construction and what the learning spaces would look like and what programs and instruction should look like.”

She said that the General Facilities Planning Committee would be the group to consider solar.


Special education

Guilderland, responding to parents’ requests, has added to next year’s budget a third section of Comprehensive Skills, for special needs students, at the high school for $87,900, targeted for students aged 14 to 22.

On Tuesday, the mother of a special needs student who started the conversation with the board last month, Deidre Depew, told the board, “Clearly, you have heard us.”

Depew said she and other parents were looking forward to a meeting with school leaders that they had requested six weeks ago and advised, “I think it’s time to make it more inclusive. Listen to us all, be thoughtful. Let us help get this program to be better and to be more staffed.”

Depew also said “courage is contagious” and, since she and other parents had spoken out about their children’s needs, more parents are stepping forward.

She suggested starting a special-education parent advisory council to meet regularly with the special-education department.

Board member Blasiak, who had started a PTA for special-education parents but found it was preaching to the choir, said now, “Parents are coming out of the woodwork. It’s like all of a sudden, because the parents were coming to the meetings, it almost gave permission and a level of comfort for other parents to say, ‘OK, you know what, we’re here too.’”

Blasiak said she “loved the idea” of a special-education advisory council.

“It’s an important partnership because at the end of the day … we want all of our students to be successful,” she said. “That’s going to be part of our students’ success, having a solid partnership.”

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