Levy increase part of approved Niskayuna schools budget

Niskayuna High School. (Marc Schultz)Niskayuna High School. (Marc Schultz)

NISKAYUNA — Niskayuna Central School District voters in May will be asked to approve a budget that adds 17 new positions, including teachers and social workers, while boosting the local tax levy by 2.64 percent.

Even before state lawmakers have hashed out a final budget, which will detail school districts’ specific state aid levels, the Niskayuna school board Tuesday night moved to finalize its spending plan.

The vote to adopt the budget was delayed as the board considered whether to proceed with one board member absent. But the board ultimately voted to approve the plan and start advertising the new positions.

“It’s tight; this is a conservative budget,” Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. said as he presented his final spending proposal to the school board, adding that the budget does give the district money to expand programs for students.

The new positions focus on improving social and emotional services for students, expanding programs for those with disabilities and adding teachers to keep up with growing enrollment.

After discussing tax levy increases as high as 3 percent and as low as 2 percent, the school board landed on lifting the local levy – the total amount the district collects in taxes – by 2.64 percent. That comes in below the district’s state-mandated tax cap of more than 3 percent but also represents the largest levy increase for the district since the 2013-14 school year.

The budget increases general fund spending by 3.4 percent over last year, or nearly $2.8 million. That is the district’s largest spending increase in at least eight years.

The budget includes more than $390,000 in new spending to support students’ social and emotional needs, an area identified last year as a priority. The budget includes two new full-time social workers, which would place one in each elementary school. It also supports establishing a school-based mental health clinic at a district elementary school.

Over $430,000 will be devoted to staffing a new special education class and supporting a program to help students with disabilities gain career credentials and high school diplomas. Other areas include a new full-time middle school assistant principal and extra services from contracted behavioral specialists, It also includes a larger teaching staff, particularly at Van Antwerp Middle School, to keep class sizes from growing.

If the district’s final state aid comes in higher than the level assumed in the adopted budget, school officials could reduce the tax levy or the amount it plans to pull from budget reserves next year.

Voters will be asked to adopt the district’s budget on May 15. Polls will be open at Niskayuna High School from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Two school board