COLONIE — Voters approved the South Colonie Central School District $108 million budget by a count of 920 to 238 on Tuesday, May 19.
The budget will increase spending by less than 1 percent and taxes by about 1 percent. It means the owner of a $175,000 home will pay about $2.59 more per month. For Colonie homeowners, the average tax increase is about $28.28 a year, for Niskayuna and Guilderland homeowners in the district it represents an average increase of $17.25.
“We want to thank all those who took the time to vote today,” said Dr. David Perry, superintendent of schools, in a statement. “The 2021-22 budget will allow the district to continue to meet the needs of our students by preserving educational programming at the current level. Through additional stimulus funding, we will also be able to expand program offerings to support academic achievement and enhance our social-emotional wellness support for our students in the upcoming school year.”
Voters also approved purchasing 57 acres off Central Avenue in the Village of Colonie for $2 million to build new district offices and a new bus garage by a count of 731 to 418.
The district office on Loralee Drive, off Vly Road near Saddlewood Elementary School, was built in 1971. According to the district, it is not large enough to house staff, the boardroom is not adequate for public board meetings, there is not enough space for training and needs some $1.7 million worth of work. The bus garage on Winston Place, near the village office complex, is aged and would need about the same to renovate.
There were three candidates running for one open seat on the Board of Education being vacated by longtime member Edward Sim. Bob Mesick received 497 votes, Graham Knowles received 349 and Robert Downey received 169.
Mesick is a business banking relationship manager at Pioneer Bank. He has volunteers as a girls basketball coach for the capital District Girls Basketball League and was a volunteer coach for the Colonie Girls Youth Softball Recreational League. He will begin his five-year term on July 1.
The second open seat to succeed Neil Johanning, who was on the board since 2005, was unopposed and Chris Larrabee received 848 votes. He is a business services representative for the state Department of Labor. The Colonie Little League player agent, a recreation team and travel team head coach will begin his five-year term on July 1.
Last year the district, facing a $3.2 million deficit, was forced to eliminate 40 positions to keep taxes under the state imposed cap.
This year — thanks in part to an 11.3 percent increase, or $2.3 million, in state aid and an infusion of $9.2 million through the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act — the proposed budget includes money to hire 16.2 full time equivalent employees including four elementary school teachers, one alternate education and one special education teacher, a guidance counselor and four teaching assistants.
The federal stimulus money is earmarked for “evidence-based interventions” to help students catch up if they have fallen behind in studies because of COVID-19. In South Colonie it is slated to be spent on expanding summer school literacy and math academy, extend after school programming, instructional materials, replace Chromebooks and staff training and development.
Nearly a third of the budget, $34.8 million is allocated for teacher salaries, an increase of about $1.1 million than what the district estimates to spend this year. Total instruction, which includes salaries and programming will increase to $87.2 million from $84.7 million. Employee benefits, which includes health care and pension contributions, would increase to $29.2 million from the estimated $26.2 million that will be spent this year. The cost of administration will decrease to $10 million from about $10.5 million.
Statewide, 99 percent of the school budgets passed or are on track to pass, according to the state New York State United Teachers. Out of 501 districts who put their spending plans to the voters, just five failed to win support.
“Voters in communities across New York once again have shown that funding public schools at the local level is a top priority for their families,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “After more than a year of crisis, it’s clearer than ever before that public schools are the backbones of our communities, delivering not only an education to our students, but providing social-emotional learning, mental health services, meals and so much more. Investing in public education is investing in the future of our state. Clearly, voters agree.”