What was continuously called a challenging budgeting year for the South Colonie Central School District was capped with residents approving a 2013-14 school budget that exceeds the state tax cap.
The $92.3 million budget passed by a vote of 2,205 to 1,105, or a 66.2 percent approval margin, on Tuesday, May 21. South Colonie was one of 27 districts out of the 682 in New York that asked its residents to approve an override of the state tax cap. The budget has a 0.49 percent spending increase over the 2012-13 school year with in an increase in the tax levy by 4.98 percent, or 0.55 percent above the tax cap.
Administrators noted the district has lost $13.2 million in state aid over the past five years, putting the school in a tight spot. According to the district, $485,000 of the state aid will be restored this year.
South Colonie teachers and administrators also recently decided to approve contract givebacks for the second year in a row. The roughly 450 members of the South Colonie Teachers Association will take one unpaid day during the next school year, saving the district approximately $230,000. The Central Office and Building Level administrators also approved of health insurance and compensation changes in their contract, adding another $102,000 savings for a total of $332,000.
Several programs will be maintained within the new budget. Administrators have said that cuts would include a roughly 9 percent reduction across all areas, but still protect certain programs. Full-day kindergarten will stay at all elementary schools and class sizes will be equalized. Advanced Placement and college-level courses will remain as well as early literacy programs. Foreign languages will remain in seventh through 12th grades but will be cut from fifth and sixth. The art and music programs will see some restructuring without any programs eliminated.
As for extracurricular activities, modified sports teams will be consolidated, low-enrollment ninth grade sports teams will be combined with Junior Varsity teams and there will be some restricting of co-curricular and summer school opportunities.
Sheryl Traudt voted in favor of passing the 2013-14 budget and has two kids in the district. She said she understood why the cap needed to be exceeded.
“I think it’s worth it if there’s not going to be cuts to the staff and people they need to give the kids a good quality education,” Traudt said after voting at Veeder Elementary School.
Arnold Abate Jr. has two kids in the district and though he declined to say how he voted, he said he knows the school has been struggling with a reduction in state aid.
“With the fact that as I understand things the school districts have been forced to deplete whatever types of savings they’ve had. Now the increases that everyone’s seeing this year seem to be really just to try to build those savings back up,” Abate said after voting at Veeder.
Abate added that he was worried about what would happen to extracurricular activities.
“I’m interested in the extracurricular activities and the arts programs which always seem to be the first items that seem to hit the chopping block. It’s a tough decision when you’re weighing the type of increases that they’re proposing versus the services they’ll get,” he said. “I’ve definitely had some anxiety about it.”
Two seats are filled on the Board of Education. Shelle Jaquish, who ran unopposed for a new term, will serve another five-year term. Christine Badger Mele will replace current member Robert Domenici, who has served on the board since 1998 and did not seek reelection.