Guilderland school board’s $100.9 million budget to go to voters May 15

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Sign of the times: The Guilderland School Board voted to spend $19,500 in the 2018-19 budget to make the other side of this sign electronic, too, after a high school assistant principal said a sign with manually-placed letters does not reflect well on the school.

GUILDERLAND — The school board finalized a $100.9 million budget Tuesday night which is $4,779 under the tax cap. Several last-minute additions had one board member comparing the final meeting on the budget to “the wild, wild West.”

The budget, which the board unanimously adopted presents a 2.48-percent increase over this year, when district residents in the town of Guilderland paid $22.63 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in property taxes. If voters pass the budget on May 15, taxes for Guilderland residents will increase to an estimated $23.07 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in property taxes.

The estimated taxes for district residents in other towns are $17.44 in Bethlehem; $17.79 in New Scotland; and $29.06 in Knox.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders said Wednesday that state aid was projected to fund 25.7 percent of the budget and property taxes, 71.7 percent. This leaves a small gap of 2.6 percent to be funded, he said, by local revenue sources like rentals, interest earnings, and tuition.

In March, Superintendent Marie Wiles had presented a $100.7 million budget with a $1.6 million gap, based on the governor’s original plan for state aid. With fine-tuning and more aid from the state, board members last week considered two plans: a $100.5 million budget, for an increase of 2.02 percent over this year; and a $100.9 million budget — with a number of additions — a 2.45-percent increase over this year.

Ultimately, on Tuesday, the board added more items.

A week ago, in budget discussions, the board asked the administrators to put into the budget two new items — a new pole-vaulting system, or pole-vault pit, as well as the money needed to complete the second side of a double-sided electronic sign that stands at the entrance to the high school.

The old pole vaulting system is 18 years old, said Wiles in a discussion with the board Tuesday night. It isn’t unsafe, but it is “near or at the end of its life,” she said. “It we don’t do it this year, we absolutely have to do it next year,” she said.

The finalized budget adds $13,400 for the pole-vaulting system.

There had previously been two signs in front of the school, Assistant Principal Ann-Marie McManus told the board, one from 1995, with letters that needed to be changed manually, and one newer, from about 2001. McManus felt that the manual-letter sign reflected poorly on the school — sometimes there were not enough letters to write out complete words — and, some time ago, she began talking with Principal Tom Lutsic and facilities Director Clifford Nooney about different kinds of signs that could be erected in its place.

In addition, two years ago, McManus said, the older sign blew over, hitting a custodial worker who was changing the letters on it, underscoring, for her, the need for a new sign. McManus did fundraising and came up with $5,000 for one side and now has a fund of about $1,200 for the other.

“We need a sign in front of our high school,” said Teresa Gitto to fellow board members.

Another $19,500 was added to cover the cost of completing the sign.

The board had asked administrators to add those two items, in a discussion on April 10, Sanders said.

Because of those two added items, further adjustments were needed to keep the district from going over the state-set tax-levy limit, said Sanders Wednesday. By staying under the tax cap, a simple majority of more than 50 percent is needed to pass the budget, rather than a supermajority of more than 60 percent.

The superintendent’s budget had called for using $930,000 from the fund balance. The board had planned to reduce the amount of money used from the fund balance by $100,000, bringing the amount used down to $830,000.

Instead, in order to allow for the addition of the pole-vaulting system and the sign, without going over the tax-levy limit, the board decided to reduce the fund-balance draw by $80,500 instead of $100,000. As of June 30, 2017, the fund balance held $3.9 million, Sanders said Wednesday.

The board cut expenses by reducing the number of unassigned teaching positions from the planned 5 to 4.7. The .3 reduction in teaching position saved $19,500.

Board member Catherine Barber asked rhetorically if a sign was worth three-tenths of a teaching position. “That’s the trade-off,” she said. Barber said she thought both the pole-vaulting system and the sign should be taken out.

Barber, who is not running for re-election, said that she will not be on the board to deal with the ramifications, but that she thought the board had established a pretty bad precedent. “‘Well, we’ll just take money from the fund balance and put in random things,” she said drily of the board’s approach.

Vice-President Seema Rivera said, “I’m not against the sign, but it seems thrown in at the last minute.” She added, “If we have to choose between a sign and a .3 FTE, I’d always choose the teacher.” Rivera called the final-hour additions “kind of wild, wild West.”

She and several other board members worried that these additions were never presented to the community for discussion.

Rivera said she too was concerned about precedent. “So, in future, anyone can bring up anything not discussed before, a week before the budget is passed, and we’ll throw that in.”

The 2017-18 budget allotted four unassigned teaching positions, so that number for 2018-19 will rise to 4.7.

The vote on spending for the sign was 5 to 4, with Allan Simpson, Barbara Fraterrigo, Hayes, Gitto, and Timothy Horan in favor, and Barber, Rivera, Judy Slack, and Gloria Towle-Hilt voting against.

The vote was 8 to 1 for replacing the pole-vaulting system, with Towle-Hilt dissenting.

Voting to restore the three-tenths of a teaching position were Fraterrigo, Hayes, Gitto, Rivera, and Horan. Against were Simpson, Barber, Slack, and Towle-Hilt.

More Guilderland News

  • In November 2019, Albany Country Club proposed changing the zoning of 549 acres from Rural Agricultural to Country Hamlet for a 290-unit development consisting of 100 single-family homes, 100 townhomes, and 90 multi-family units.

  • Speaking about the white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on a cuffed George Floyd until he was dead, Altamont Police Todd Pucci was unequivocal, “That officer should go to jail; what he did was murder.”

  • The Guilderland committee for police reform assembled arrest records according to race and found that a much higher percentage of Blacks than there are Black residents in town were charged. This is largely due to arrests of out-of-town suspects made at Crossgates Mall, according to Police Chief Daniel McNally. The public is encouraged to read the draft and respond.

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