GCSD faces $1.7M gap in $127M rollover budget for next year

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Andrew Van Alstyne, Guilderland’s assistant superintendent for business, says, in building next year’s budget, “One big thing that we are waiting to find out is the outcome of the Crossgates tax certiorari case.”

GUILDERLAND — The school district here is looking at a $1.7 million budget gap for next year if it were to keep the same staffing and programs it has this year.

In delineating the rollover budget to the school board on Dec. 5, Assistant Superintendent for Business Andrew Van Alstyne said, with “everything staying the same,” the budget would increase 6.1 percent from $120 million this year to $127 million next year.

“The significant cost drivers,” he said, are benefits, making up 45 percent of the increase, and teachers’ salaries, accounting for 29 percent of the increase.

“Health insurance for next year is projected to rise 35 percent,” Van Alstyne said, including prescription coverage. During the pandemic, he said, “people were not using routine medical services or avoiding medical services,” but that “has rebounded and continues to rise.” Also, state-set contributions to the retirement system have increased.

The teachers’ contract for next year calls for an average salary increase of a little over 6 percent.

On the revenue side, Van Alstyne projected state aid at $41.3 million, up from $37.8 million this year. “We’re able to project state aid because, now that the state has funded the Foundation Aid formula, we can look at the updated formula,” he said.

The formula is based on the state’s calculations of how much it costs to successfully educate a student, he said. “How much of that is the school district able to provide locally based on the income and the property value of its residents? And then what are the additional costs of high-needs students, students in economic distress, students with disabilities, English language learners?”

He projected that $82.5 million would come from local property taxes, up from $80.4 million this year.

“One big thing that we are waiting to find out is the outcome of the Crossgates tax certiorari case,” said Van Alstyne.

In July, Crossgates filed its fourth lawsuit in as many years to lower its taxes, requesting that an Albany County court lower its assessed value from $234.2 million to $102 million. In tax year 2023, Crossgates paid a collective $6.1 million in taxes to the town of Guilderland, its special districts, school system, and Albany County. The school district is the major recipient.

Van Alstyne said there was money in the budget to cover fallout from tax certiorari cases and, if need be, the money owed could be borrowed. “There are lots of permutations depending on the scale of whatever the verdict is …,” he said. “But the uncertainty makes it challenging.”

Van Alstyne listed, for the sake of the presentation, closing the gap between expected revenues and paying for all the same programs as this year by appropriating $1.7 million from the fund balance.

Board member Rebecca Butterfield asked Van Alstyne what the district’s current fund balance is and what percentage of that the $1.7 million would be.

Van Alstyne responded that the current fund balance is at the 4 percent maximum allowed by the state and, doing on-the-spot rough calculations, said that the $1.7 million would be about a third of the fund.

Butterfield said she had “reservations about such a high degree of the fund balance being used.”

Van Alstyne stressed that was simply the way he had presented figures. “The alternate way of presenting it would be to have a negative line,” he said.

Superintendent Marie Wiles said of taking as much as $1.7 million from the fund balance, “There is no way we’re using that.”

For the current year’s budget, nothing was taken from the fund balance.

Van Alstyne had opened his presentation by explaining that the rollover budget he was describing was “everything we’re doing this year within the general fund.”

He went on to note, “We have had several years of fiscal federal stimulus programs in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic and those are expiring at the close of this year. This is creating something that we want to avoid called the fiscal cliff.”

He explained that a fiscal cliff occurs “if you build up one-time costs to cover recurring costs, without the one-time revenue sources, you end up with a shortfall. So one of the things we’ll be doing in the budget process … is looking at programs, services, staff that are in federal programs right now.”


Budget process

The board and superintendent then had a lengthy discussion on how the budget process will unfold, beginning with the governor presenting her budget for the state in January and progressing until Wiles presents the board with the draft proposal of Guilderland’s budget on March 5.

Wiles noted that typically board members would have shared their budget priorities by now.

But, she said, “It’s very hard to ask you what your priorities are kind of out of thin air.”

Wiles asked the board members, “What tool or process might be most helpful to all of you to provide for us that feedback?”

She said a ThoughtExchange, an anonymous online survey, is being planned “to gather feedback from stakeholders later in January.” Stakeholders include community members, parents, and students, she said.

“It would be nice to see what the stakeholders share,” said board President Seema Rivera, as well as hearing the principals’ priorities.

Board member Gloria Towle-Hilt said it would be good to know what will be lost when the federal pandemic funding ends.

Board member Blanca Gonzalez-Parker said, using athletics as an example, that it would be good to know not just the priorities of the athletic director but also of the coaches. She cited an example from earlier this year where track coaches told the board they were short-staffed well after the budget was adopted.

“One of the roles that our leaders play is to pay attention to what’s happening in their classrooms and in their buildings, and in their athletic programs,” said Wiles.

Noting the $1.7 million budget gap “before we even add anything,” Wiles said naming top priorities is important.

Pressed about reaching individual staff members, Wiles said, “Stakeholders should know that, if they have concerns, they should bring them to the individuals who bring recommendations to the process.”



Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Rachel Anderson lauded a number of Guilderland staff members and students who have garnered recent recognition:

—  John Fatuzzo, a band teacher at both the middle school and high school, is being honored by the New York State School Music Association with the Early Career Achievement Educator Award.

In his three years working at Guilderland, Anderson said, Fatuzzo has “has distinguished himself as a leader, a collaborator and an advocate for students”;

— The Guilderland High school Chem Club, advised by teacher Alicia McTiernan, won for having the best-themed booth at the New York American Chemical Society National Chemistry Week National New York Hall of Science this year.

The club was competing with not only other schools but private industries like Regeneron and Curia, Anderson said. The club also received a third-place recognition for best booth based on participation;

—  Tamara Bryngelson-Eppard won the New York State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance’s Capital Zone Amazing Person Award. She teaches physical education at the high school and coaches the junior-varsity softball team

“Tamara is proud to be involved in the Unified Phys. Ed. program and loves being a co-advisor to GHS’s Best Buddies Club,” said Anderson. “She loves working with students, helping them to become lifelong learners of physical activity and promoters of inclusion”;

— Lynnwood Elementary School was awarded Green Shield Status for the 2022-23 school year from the Positivity Project.

“They’re only one of two schools in New York state to be recognized so this is quite an accomplishment,” said Anderson; and

— Allison Relyea was named the recipient of the Unified Champion Award by the Special Olympics Committee of New York State. “Allison’s advocacy for all students is unmatched,” said Anderson. “Under her leadership and guidance, Guilderland Central School District has created a Unified program that consists of two sections of Unified physical education at the high school three Unified sports offerings, one in each sports season: bocce, bowling and basketball …

“She helped facilitate a unified cheer team that performed at the unified basketball games last spring. There's nobody more deserving of this award than Allison.”


More Guilderland News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.