NISKAYUNA, N.Y. – The Niskayuna Central School District may close Van Antwerp Middle School or one of its five elementary schools to help plug a multi-million-dollar budget gap, the superintendent revealed Tuesday.
About 100 people attended a Board of Education meeting at Van Antwerp, where Superintendent Susan Salvaggio said rising pension costs and reductions in state aid have left the district with no choice but to consider a school closure and job cuts.
"These are the kinds of things we have left," Salvaggio said. "After years and years now of reductions, these are some of the things that we're thinking we have to look at."
District administrators projected a property tax hike of seven to 12 percent would be necessary to eliminate the nearly $6 million deficit. The state's property tax cap is expected to be about 3.4 percent this year, requiring the district to rely more heavily on cuts.
Dozens of employees – classroom teachers, cleaners, custodians, nurses, support staff, and one principal – may be cut according to seniority, Salvaggio said. The district is also exploring the possibility of subcontracting its transportation, which would affect school bus drivers and related staff.
The district will also discuss eliminating modified or freshman sports, though no cuts are planned to junior varsity or varsity sports, according to documents provided at the meeting. The high school musical may be forced to rely on fundraising to continue. Other program cuts are also under consideration.
Though Salvaggio did not specify which elementary school the district may seek to close, many parents said they believe Birchwood Elementary School would be the target. Its students would then be transferred to other schools in the district.
The district does not propose closing more than one school.
Paulette Doudoukjian, who recently relocated to Niskayuna from Westchester County, said her children would be devastated if Birchwood were to close.
"When we moved back to this area, we specifically looked for a home that was in the Birchwood attendance zone because we wanted to give our kids something familiar," Doudoukjian said.
If the district were to close Van Antwerp Middle School, this year's sixth and seventh graders would transfer to Iroquois Middle School in the fall while eighth graders would graduate to the high school as usual. This year's fifth graders who would have graduated to Van Antwerp would instead spend their sixth grade year in an elementary school.
Bruce Lawton said that would have a direct impact on his daughter, who is currently in the fifth grade and expecting to attend Van Antwerp in the fall.
"I worry about her losing a year in sixth grade and it becoming a holding pattern year," Lawton said. "Maybe they fix this in the out-years, two or three years later, but maybe they don't. Either way, I'm afraid that may daughter is the one who is going to pay the price."
The board is planning several additional meetings with the goal of finalizing its budget proposal by March 27. The town will vote on the budget in May, though Salvaggio said closing a school is up to the board – not the taxpayers.
"People are very committed to our schools, very much wanting a quality education," Salvaggio, the superintendent, said. "It is a real dilemma for us."
Niskayuna will lose $3.29 million this year to the state's continuing Gap Elimination Adjustment, according to the district. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's state budget proposal would reduce state aid to the district by an additional $519,255.00
Simultaneously, Niskayuna's required contribution to the state Teacher's Retirement System is projected to grow by 39 percent to $5.4 million this year, according to the district.