By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Voters in Niskayuna approved a $77,313,236 budget for the 2014-15 school year by a wide margin, with 2,595 in favor and 1,230 against. Res idents also accepted the district’s plan to purchase seven new buses as replacements for older models in its fleet, with 66% in favor.
Niskayuna 2014-15 Budget Breakdown:
Budget Total: $77,313,236
Spending increase: $1,620,055 (up 2.14 percent)
Tax levy increase: $1,239,675 (up 2.34 percent)
Estimated tax bill increase (for a home with a market value of $250,000): $115 to $118
The budget represents a 2.34 percent property tax increase, which the district estimates will add between $115-$118 to the bill for homes worth $250,000. Debt for the buses will be included in the 2015-16 budget, although the purchase will likely have little impact on actual taxes paid thanks to a combination of state aid, lower operating costs, and ongoing repayment of old debt.
Those leaving the polls said the attitude surrounding the budget was tangibly different from last year, when the district asked voters to approve a number over its tax cap.
“I think there were a lot of people that were just feeling like the district and the board were out of bounds,” said Beth Sacco, who has two children at Rosendale Elementary and one at Iroquois Middle School. Though Sacco voted to approve the budget both this year and last, she said she wasn’t surprised when it failed in 2013.
This year, she expected things to go smoothly. “I really haven’t heard any rumblings at all that it wouldn’t pass, so I think we’re in a lot different of a situation this year,” she said.
Two new Board of Education members, Rosemarie Perez Jacquith and David Apkarian, were elected with 2425 and 2621 votes, respectively. Niskayuna voters chose the freshman board members over current president and two-term member Deb Oriola, who received just 1437 votes.
The new board members’ terms will extend to June 2017. They inherit a long to-do list from a contentious past year that included a resounding rejection of the 2013/14 budget and a controversial change of superintendents.
Jacquith said priority issues during her first term would include cohesiveness in the board, sustainable planning, and a shift in focus to teachers’ needs.
“If anything came out during this campaign, it’s divisiveness. People feel it’s ‘us against them,’ and I want to really work to address that,” Jacquith said. “I’m going to reach out on all fronts to make sure everybody understands I represent everyone.
“I absolutely believe in and value our teachers, and am looking forward very much to working with them because they are the most valuable partners we have in educating our kids,” she said.
Apkarian said in addition to building community and trust, he hoped to address issues of too-full classrooms in some schools, as well as revenue generation.
“We need to reach out to stakeholders in the community,” Apkarian said. “A seven-person board and the five or six people who run the district can’t do it alone, we need stakeholders to step up and help. The conversation needs to be two-way.”
Current Board of Education member Bob Winchester, who is in his third term, felt the new candidates were accurate in their assessments that the board may need to improve its teamwork.
“I think people want the board to function more as a unit and have been disappointed in how the board has functioned,” he said. “[People] are looking for the board to exert some leadership, not just in 4-3 votes but in votes that are significant.
“I’m grateful we have people who want to run for board in difficult times, I look forward to working with them, and I look forward to hearing their ideas and seeing what strengths they bring to the board,” Winchester said.
Interim Superintendent John Yagielski expressed gratitude to all three candidates for their willingness to serve the School Board. “No pay, lots of grief, you’re always wrong–we should be thanking these people! I do,” he said.
“From a superintendent’s position, I’ve always thought the community will make its choices with respect to budget and candidates and I respect what they say,” Yagielski said. “When you think about it, they’re my bosses, so I should keep my nose out of it.”