Tax hike of 2 School board adopts 83 8M plan

Tax hike of 2 %
School board adopts $83.8M plan

GUILDERLAND — After hours of discussion and a flurry of proposals to amend the budget — all defeated — the school board on Tuesday night unanimously adopted an $83.8 million spending plan for next year.

The public will vote on the proposal on May 20.

The budget framers predicted a tax-rate hike of 2.03 percent over this year, up from the 1.54 percent they had predicted when the plan was first presented to a citizens’ committee for review at the end of February.

With the passage of the state budget yesterday, Guilderland regained enough aid that the school board could decide to make the local tax hike as low as 1.43 percent.

Based on the figures that were available Tuesday night, however, administrators calculated Guilderland homeowners would pay $19.54 per $1,000 of assessed value, up 39 cents from this year.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders told the school board that this increase was because the $20 million of growth in the town of Guilderland that the school district had first estimated now looks closer to $10 million.

Guilderland’s assessor, Carol Wysomski, said yesterday that it might go as high as $12 million. “The school has picked an average number,” she said. “They don’t check with me. I told Neil about a month ago, it’s not going to be $20 million. Construction is dead in town.”

Sanders told The Enterprise yesterday, “When we put the budget together for the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee in the middle of February…the town is not usually able to give me a definitive answer on projected assessments. I keep a record of growth over time…and use that as the basis of coming up with that part of the tax rate.”

He went on, “We always check with the town again at the end of March. Oftentimes, we’re very close… The past several years, it’s been closer to $25 million.”

Overall property value for the entire town of Guilderland, not just the part in the school district, is close to $4 billion, Wysomski told The Enterprise.

She stressed that property values in town have not fallen. “It’s just with the economy,” she said. “They’re not speculating on building homes.”

The only development growth in Guilderland in the past year, she said, has been four new houses in the Saddlebrook development on Johnston Road at about $600,000 apiece and “a couple in Lone Pine Village.”

“It’s the quietest I’ve ever seen it in my 37 years,” concluded Wysomski.

Superintendent John McGuire told the school board Tuesday that the district is “still being conservative,” not counting on the restoration of BOCES aid, which the governor’s budget had cut. This would amount to about $350,000 for Guilderland, dropping the tax rate by .60, said Sanders.

The state legislature adopted New York’s budget on Wednesday. Figures obtained by The Enterprise through Assemblyman John McEneny’s office show that Guilderland will receive $1.2 million in BOCES aid.

That figure represents “full restoration of BOCES aid,” Sanders told The Enterprise. “It’s the same aid ratio as before.”

It will be up to the school board to decide how much of that will be applied to lower the tax rate. “If we decide to apply all of it,” Sanders said, the tax-rate hike would drop from 2.03 percent to 1.43 percent.

He stressed, “The voters only approve the expenditure budget,” and the tax rate can be adjusted as late as August by the school board.

The Guilderland School District has traditionally given voters its best estimate on taxes before they go to the polls.

Project Lead the Way

The board had heated discussion and debate Tuesday night on several budget items.

The majority appeared to be against including funds for Project Lead the Way until they had some of their questions answered by the high school principal, Michael Paolino. The program, which will cost $57,450 next year, is to teach pre-engineering courses.

“Why don’t we prepare the ground first before we plant the seeds?” asked board member Gloria Towle-Hilt.

Several board members said the program wouldn’t work with the block scheduling at the high school, which allows for few electives. Others said students haven’t been recruited for the new program or that it trains technicians rather than engineers.

Paolino explained that 140 students in a half-dozen sections have already signed up for a course in design for drawing and production. Three teachers will be trained by Project Lead the Way to teach those classes using a hands-on, cooperative approach.

“That the wave of the future,” said Paolino.

He also said there are ways to modify the schedule, including offering summer courses, as the project moves forward and that students don’t have to take all four courses.

“The thing that excites me the most,” said Paolino, “is the project-based learning“ and that the program ”is designed for the top 80 percent of our students.”

After hearing Paolino’s explanation, board member Colleen O’Connell withdrew her motion to delete Project Lead the Way, and the other board members agreed to keep it in the budget.

“I love it when we talk together,” said McGuire.

Part-time guidance super

Another point of contention was a new post for a guidance supervisor at a cost of about $104,000 for salary and benefits. Based on board comments at the last meeting, the supervisor’s role had been cut to six-tenths with the remaining four-tenths to be used for counseling for a cost of $91,215.

Several board members strongly opposed the supervisor’s post, which they saw as unfair since there are 11 guidance counselors and other supervisors oversee any more staff. Several mentioned the decision made during last year’s budget talks, to combine the supervisors of English and social studies in the high school into one post.

”I’m stunned,” said board member Barbara Fraterrigo of the proposal.

McGuire urged the board not to make “piecemeal tradeoffs” and he also said he wanted to “dispel a myth.”

“This place is not administratively top heavy, quite the contrary,” he said.

Echoing a comment made by board member Denise Eisele, McGuire said that evaluating the combined English and social studies supervisory post was premature; it should be done after a year. An in-depth analysis will be done on supervisory support, he said.

Board member Hy Dubowsky made a motion to hold off on the guidance supervisor’s post until after the study is completed.

“I have no rationale to ask just for a guidance counselor,” said McGuire of the four-tenths of a job that would remain.

“So you don’t need a guidance counselor?” asked board member Peter Golden.

“No,” replied McGuire, “I’m trying to get a supervisor.”

He also told the board, “We have not adequately communicated to you the importance of leadership.”

Vice President John Dornbush suggested thinking of the new position as a “director” rather than a  “supervisor.”

“We’re trying to make our program more robust,” said President Richard Weisz. “We owe it to our, when they get to the end of high school, they have some idea where they’re going.”

“We can commit to coming back to you to demonstrate what value has been added,” said McGuire.

Ultimately, only Fraterrigo and Dubowsky voted to cut the supervisor’s post.

Later, only Dornbush and Eisele vote to make the supervisor’s post full-time.

Plan preserved

Golden made a motion to add “a small amount of money” to bring classical musicians into the schools so students could decide what instruments they want to play.

“I’m hard pressed to argue against someone giving us money for culture,” said McGuire.

Board member Cathy Barber, a musician who has been a proponent of supporting the arts since she was elected three years ago, said she objected “as a matter of principle“ since there are many worthwhile programs and no plans for the money.

Weisz said it sounds like pork and any expenditures should be part of the budget process reviewed by citizens. He also said that 70 percent of the district’s elementary students already participate in music programs, playing instruments or singing.

McGuire then chimed in that Guilderland has “absolutely the most transparent budget process” he has encountered. While he said it was the board’s prerogative to add items, it could compromise credibility.

Barber added that older Guilderland students give concerts for the younger ones so they find out about a variety of instruments. O’Connell said that, when the board cut cultural funding from the budget several years ago, school PTAs made the commitment to bring in artists. She said teachers prefer having artists come to the schools, rather than forcing students to travel.

Golden withdrew his motion and proposed instead that some of the $200,000 surplus from this year’s budget be returned to the taxpayers.

Sanders said that decision could be made when the tax rates are set in August.

In a vote of 5 to 4, the board decided to keep the three teaching lines in reserve in case class sizes grew over projections, and, in a 7-to-2 vote, the board decided not to purchase a maintenance truck for $38,5000.

At 10:30 p.m., after three hours of discussion, the board, with a vote of 9-to-0, adopted the modified $83,823,160 plan that the administrators had presented — a 2.08-percent increase over this year’s budget.

The board members applauded. So did the only two school principals remaining in the gallery. And so did the students manning the cameras to film the meeting.

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