GCSD residents will vote on $125M budget, two bus props, and sale of Cobblestone Schoolhouse

— Graph from Guilderland School Board May 7, 2024 meeting

About two-thirds of the revenue for Guilderland’s school budget next year will come from property taxes while about three-quarters of expenses will pay for salaries and benefits.

GUILDERLAND — Although no members of the public spoke at the budget hearing the Guilderland School Board held on May 7, the public got an overview of what will be up for vote on May 21.

In addition to deciding on a $125 million budget for next year, district residents will also elect three out of five candidates for the school board, vote on two complementary bus propositions, and also decide if the district should sell the town its 1860 Cobblestone Schoolhouse for $10,000.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Andrew Van Alstyne reviewed the basics of the budget, noting the proposal is up $5.4 million from this year, an increase of 4.5 percent.

About a third of the budget is funded with state aid while most of the remaining two-thirds comes from property taxes.

The tax levy is up 2.74 percent, which is under the state-set cap by $1,270, meaning a simple majority is needed to pass the budget.

Van Alstyne went over the three parts of the budget in a format mandated by the state:

— 76 percent of the budget is spent on school programs;

— 13.5 percent is for capital costs; and

— 10.7 percent is for administrative costs.

“We have really cut the amount of appropriated reserves in the budget,” said Van Alstyne.

He also noted, “Most of our budget is determined by our people.” Salaries and benefits, especially health care, have increased, Van Alstyne said. They account for just over three-quarters of the budget expenses.

If the budget were to be voted down, Van Alstyne said, a second budget could be put up by the board. If that second budget were to be defeated, Van Alstyne went on, “We would have to cut about $2.2 million from our current budget in order to meet the contingency budget requirements.”

Guilderland for the first time is putting up two different bus propositions, meant to complement one another.

“We are not asking voters to pick which one they prefer,” said Van Alstyne. “The idea is one proposal is our traditional replacement model that reduces the maintenance costs, lets us keep our buses in service.”

That $1.3 million proposition includes six 65-passenger buses, a 24-passenger wheelchair-capable bus, a transportation maintenance truck, and a skid steer.

“And the second proposal,” Van Alstyne went on, “allows us to gain valuable experience with electric buses without a net cost to the community. This lets us see how they perform on our routes, lets drivers drive them, lets our mechanics work on them.”

That proposition, for $407,500, will be for two electric buses: a 65-passenger bus and a 30-passenger bus and a Level 2 charging station. “This is the slow charger,” said Van Alstyne, “which we’re able to install without needing to any significant upgrades or changes to our infrastructure.”

Schools have a state requirement that, starting in 2027, new buses must be zero-emissions — which means electric since hydrogen is not yet an option — and by 2035, all school buses must be zero-emissions.

Van Alstyne explained on May 7 that two incentive programs will allow Guilderland “to get these electric school buses at zero net cost to taxpayers.’

The first, the New York State Bus Incentive Program, he said awards a voucher to the dealer “on our behalf that reduces the sticker price of the bus” while the second is a change in transportation aid, part of the recently passed state budget, “which with our aid ratio makes it a net zero cost to taxpayers.”

Guilderand has a Zero Emission Task Force, Van Alstyne said, that is working on an electrification plan.

The final proposition is to allow the district to sell its 1860 Cobblestone Schoolhouse, on route 146 in Guilderland Center, to the town for $10,000.

“Because this is below market value, we have to have voter approval for the sale,” said Van Alstyne.

According to the Albany County assessment rolls, the property, which is an acre, with the schoolhouse, has a full-market value of $196,941.

“We’ve put a lot of money into maintenance and upkeep in recent years,” said Van Alstyne, “and transferring it to the town allows the town to take advantage of grants that it has lined up so that weather will be support for the town to receive from the state to support this work, to help maintain this property.”

Voters will also be deciding among five candidates: Mateo Dunagan, Blanca Gonzalez-Parker, Nina Kaplan, Elizabeth Floyd Mair, and Tara Molloy-Grocki.

An Enterprise forum interviewing the candidates on a variety of school issues is online. The posts on the nine-member board are unpaid and the terms last for three years.

Voting takes place at each of the district’s five elementary schools on Tuesday, May 21 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

 

Plea for more tech spots

A Farnsworth Middle School student, Ari Schumann, and his father asked the board on May 7 about expanding access to advanced tech programs for students.

Ari, an eighth-grader, told the board, “For a long time now, I’ve wanted to do engineering when I grew up.”

He was disappointed not to be drawn in a lottery that allows a student to study through a BOCES program at Hudson Valley Community College.

Eric Schumann said that his son and similarly driven students had also applied to the Tech Valley High School program and he questioned the “limitation of one student that we can send to each school every year.”

Eric Schumann said, “These programs are very easy for the district to take part in. They’re designed to be cost neutral to the district so that there is no undue burden on the school districts as far as being able to send students.”

He urged eliminating the limitation “so that we can send as many students as have an interest and have the talent, the skills, and the desire to go to these kinds of program.s”

Superintendent Marie Wiles responded, “It is not cost neutral.” The tuition per student, she said, is about $15,000.

For years, Guilderland has set aside four slots, one for each high school grade, for Tech Valley High School, Wiles said, and has similarly done the same for the P-Tech program at Hudson Valley Community College, with the cost funded in the district’s budget.

“If we can find a way to make it revenue neutral, would that allay the concerns the board has?” asked Schumann.

“You’re welcome to send me an email with your ideas,” Wiles responded, “because, if I knew how to make anything cost neutral, I would have done it.”

More Guilderland News

  • The legal decision is the fifth in four years to uphold the town’s approval process of what was initially a three-site development proposal from Pyramid for over 200 apartments and townhomes; a 160,000-square-foot warehouse-price club; and only recently, a $55 million 120,000-square-foot regional cancer center. 

  • Superintendent Marie Wiles says the hope is the added funds will increase the number of places available so that families who were disappointed in lottery results may still have a chance of their children attending. “This is a game changer for our partners,” she said of the preschools the district works with, “and for our community.”

  • “This means a great deal to not only this community, but my family as well,” said Councilwoman Amanda Beedle on flying the pride flag. She said she had brought the matter to the board because she wanted “to show that this town is very open and inclusive and welcoming to all.”

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