School plan to lease rather than build space for bus garage would save millions

VOORHEESVILLE — Millions of dollars would be saved under a plan that abandons the construction of a new bus garage, and instead has the Voorheesville Central School District lease space from Albany County.

The proposed garage came with a price tag of $6.8 million. By leasing space in the Albany County Department of Public Works garage, which is a short distance along Route 85A from the schools, the district will save taxpayers $3 million over 30 years, school leaders say.  

At the Sept. 11 school board meeting, Superintendent Brian Hunt said the savings “had to do with how we have to finance a new garage; in other words, we would have to bond it and pay it.”

Instead of bonding, the money for the lease with Albany County would come from the school district’s annual budget. There is no word on how much the lease would cost the district; it has yet to be worked out with the county.

Hunt said, “We are going to save the taxpayers a lot of money, but we’re also going to help our transportation department with a better facility for them to do the maintenance work. It’s going to be so much better”

The district wants to make the transition in the summer to be less disruptive, Hunt said, adding,

“It’s going to take one to two years to do this. We are going to look for a grant to do the paving work. We need to reach an agreement on the lease with Albany County, which I don’t anticipate any issues with.” He said he has summer 2018 as a target date to start making the move.  

Hunt also said the district is looking at storing its buses at the county’s DPW garage, but some pre-engineering has to be done. After the meeting, Hunt told the Enterprise, “This will be such an advantage for our elementary campus, in particular. To get the bus maintenance and bus parking off that campus is going to be absolutely key.”

The savings are part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to lower property taxes by cutting local government costs through the consolidation of municipal services. Locally, the 2015 Albany Countywide Government Efficiency Plan, says that governments and special districts that are participating in the sharing of services “will realize $15.8 million in annual savings in fiscal years 2017, 2018, and 2019.”

High test scores

Director of Curriculum Karen Conroy updated the board on last year’s results of the New York State testing program, recently released by the State Education Department.

Students in grades three through eight were tested in English language arts and math proficiency.

Between two-thirds and three-quarters of third-, fourth-, sixth-, and seventh-graders at Voorheesville participated in both of the required tests. Over half of fifth-graders took the tests. Eighth-graders participated at significantly lower rates; many opted out of the math test, while a significant number took the Regents exam for algebra instead.

When compared to the suburban cohort of Niskayuna, Bethlehem, Guilderland, and North Colonie, Voorheesville did very well.

Of students who took the test, Voorheesville ranked first in English proficiency in the third, fourth, and seventh grades. Fifth-grade came in second; sixth-grade was tied for second with North Colonie (Bethlehem and Niskayuna tied for first), and eighth-grade was fourth.

In math, of the students who were tested, Voorheesville ranked first in third, fourth, sixth, and seventh grades. Fifth-grade came in fourth, and eighth-grade came in fourth as well.

State scores are applied at four levels, with levels 3 and 4 indicating proficiency. Statewide, in 2016, in grades three through eight, 37.9 percent of students were proficient in English and 39.1 percent in math. In 2017, 39.8 percent of students were proficient in English and 40.2 percent in math.

At Voorheesville, in 2016, in grades three through eight, 65 percent of students were proficient in English and 70.8 percent in math. In 2017, 62.5 percent of students were proficient in English and 69.8 percent in math.

2016-17 highlights

School board President Doreen Saia said that a letter went out to the community earlier that day highlighting last year’s accomplishments.

Some of the highlights were:

— The Voorheesville Central School District was ranked third out of 84  districts in the greater Capital Region;  

— Clayton A. Bouton  High School was designated a Rewards School by the NY State Education Department. Reward schools are “either schools that have high achievement or schools that have made the most progress in the state and do not have significant gaps in student achievement between subgroups”;

— 100 percent of students who began as seniors in September, 2016 graduated in June, 2017; and

— Student participation in extracurricular programs was very high; with 100 students in Key Club and over 140 students in drama clubs.

Drama over the drama club

Trustee Michael Canfora voiced his dissent about a one-time transfer from the district’s general funds to the drama clubs’.

Superintendent Hunt said that the clubs’ advisors came to the board at the end of last year and said they were concerned about the impact on the drama-club budget because of senior citizens getting into plays and musicals for free.

Hunt said the drama club financial records were reviewed and discussed with some of the board committees, and it was decided that the high school drama club, the Voorheesville Dionysians, will receive $3,000, the middle school drama club will receive $1,500, and the elementary drama club will receive $500.

Canfora said, “I don’t understand why we are transferring this money to the drama club, or to any club for that matter.” He noted that, at the last meeting, Trustee Jeannie McDonnell had asked for a list of club balances. “The balances in these clubs — one club never went below $12,000, one never went below $9,800, one never went below $9,100. With cumulative balances of over $30,000, I think it’s wrong to transfer taxpayer money to these clubs. I just don’t see any justification for it,” Canfora said.

Saia responded, “From my perspective — and you raise a very good point, Mike — having looked at the issue very carefully, to me it was a matter of consistency across the different areas of what we do and what we contribute. And I looked at the amount of participation in the drama clubs, and the limited opportunities — and I share your concern that the productions need to stay reasonable and not crazy expensive — but they also put on amazing productions and involve a lot of our kids. Not just the kid who is on stage, it’s kids who are in the stage-setting, kids doing lights, kids doing a lot of stuff.”

In an interview with the Enterprise on Sept. 12, the day after the meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operation Francis Rielly, clarified that this is the first time the district has given any money to the drama clubs.  He said, “The drama club was completely self-funded. Ticket sales, if they were selling anything at the plays or musicals, it all went to their club.”

Explaining why the board made the one-time transfer of funds, Rielly said the board wanted senior citizens to be able to attend plays and musicals for free. And to offset the revenues the club would be losing, the district decided it would temporarily support the club.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Approved an extension of the deadlines for payment of school taxes. The deadline is now Oct. 7, 2017,  to pay without a penalty, and Nov. 7, 2017, for payment that incurs a 2 percent penalty;

— Noted they couldn’t ask for a better opening to the school year;

— Said there had been a number of new hires;

— Awarded a bid for fresh produce to Father's Produce, Inc.; and

— Said there would be a discussion forum for next year’s capital projects on Monday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m. in the performing arts center.


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