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Budget news & information

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

 

Following is a list of frequently asked questions relating to the Guilderland Central School District budget.

General FAQ

FAQ about the property tax levy cap

FAQ relating to salaries and benefits

FAQ relating to programs and services

 

General FAQ

Q. When is the 2014-15 school budget vote? Who can vote?

A. The public vote on the 2014-15 school budget and Board of Education will be held on Tuesday, May 20, 2014. To vote in this election, you must be 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and a resident of the Guilderland School District for at least 30 days prior to the vote. Voter registration is required in the Guilderland School District. Learn more about voter eligibility

Q. How is the budget proposal developed? How is the community involved in the process?

A. While much of the local media coverage surrounding school budgets typically appears throughout the months of April and May, the development of Guilderland’s annual spending plan is a year-long process. School and community members come together at various opportunities throughout the year to review financial information and to share ideas, concerns, and questions regarding how best to meet the needs of both our students and community. Listed below is a snapshot of Guilderland’s annual budget development process:

November: For the past thirteen years, GCSD has officially kicked-off the budget season with a public Budget Input Session. This year’s event was held on November 6, 2013. Community members were invited to share their input both in person and via an electronic feedback form on the district website.

November, December, & January: During this time, school administrators begin to discuss individual building needs (i.e., staffing, equipment, supplies, etc.) with staff members. This process involves a thorough review of enrollment projections, class sizes, and staffing levels for both professional and operational needs.

January & February: GCSD held a two-part community conversation on January 29 and February 4, to review the district’s budget development process and to discuss a list of all potential changes and reductions under consideration for 2014-2015. The event was the community’s first opportunity to provide input and comments on the recommendations and to ask direct questions of the building and district leaders who have proposed those changes. Based on a careful analysis of student-needs data, as well as feedback provided by the school and wider community, on February 27, 2014, Dr. Marie Wiles presented the Superintendent’s Budget to the Board of Education

March: Throughout the month, district residents and members of the Board had several opportunities to review, ask questions, and voice opinions about the Superintendent's proposed budget via public meetings and other community outreach programs. View the complete 2014-15 Budget Development timeline

April: After more than six months of budget work with district staff and community members, the Board of Education unanimously adopted a proposed spending plan for the 2014-15 school year on April 8, 2014. Learn more about the adopted budget

May 20, 2014: District residents will head to the polls to vote on the proposed 2014-15 spending plan.

 

Q. What is a Gap Elimination Adjustment and how is it affecting Guilderland’s school budget?

A. School districts around the state are heading into their fifth straight year of a Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which will result in an overall loss in funds of $3.2 million for GCSD in the coming year. The GEA was first introduced in 2010 by then-Governor Paterson as a way to help close New York’s budget deficit. Under the legislation, a portion of the funding shortfall at the state level is divided among all school districts throughout the state and reflected as a reduction in school district state aid. Since first introduced, the total GEA reduction in school aid for Guilderland amounts to $19 million. Despite the fact that the state is no longer facing a deficit, the GEA remains in place. Its impact on the school district’s budget has been significant, resulting in the reduction of 153 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff members since 2010-11 as well as reductions to various programs and services each year to help offset the impact of withheld state aid. The district is proposing an additional reduction of 33.85 FTEs in 2014-15.

While local media outlets have widely reported that New York’s public schools will see an increase in aid in the coming year, it is important to note that due to the GEA, Guilderland will actually receive less overall state aid than it did in 2008-09. While a slight decline in enrollment has mitigated some district expenses throughout the past five years, costs as indicated by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) have increased by 11.8 percent over that same time period. Watch a brief video explaining the GEA

If the state continues to restore Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) funds at its current pace, it will take Guilderland seven more years to become “whole” again. That means that in 2021-22, Guilderland will finally be receiving the same amount of aid owed to the district in 2009-10.

Q. Does the district use its fund balance and reserves to help mitigate budget reductions and tax increases?

A. A fund balance is created when a district is able to generate a surplus by receiving more revenue than expected and/or by spending less than the amount budgeted. As part of the proposed 2014-15 budget, Guilderland is planning to allocate $1.5 million from its projected fund balance of $4.4 million, as well as $280,000 from its reserve funds, to help lower the tax impact on district residents in the coming year. (See “Revenue Summary” above.) It is important to note that fund balances can eventually level off or even run out—they are not a guaranteed portion of any school district’s budget. As such, the use of fund balance is not a reliable long-term solution to support school funding nor to lower taxes, especially considering that school districts throughout the state are likely facing several more years of financial challenge. Earlier this year, GCSD was designated as a district “susceptible to fiscal stress” by the NYS Comptroller’s Office in part for its past use of fund balance. Guilderland has a planned, long-term approach to using its reserves and fund balance each year which, as noted in the chart above, includes a gradual waning of reliance on these funds in future years.

Q. What happens if the budget is defeated?

A. Under New York State law, if the school budget is defeated, the Board of Education can either put the budget up for another vote, put a modified budget proposal before voters, or move directly to a contingent budget. Should the Board decide to present the budget, revised or not, for another vote and it is defeated a second time, the Board must adopt a contingent budget.

Q. What would a “contingency budget” look like?

A. As in the past, certain existing contingent budget requirements remain in effect that prohibit spending in specific areas including community use of buildings, certain salary increases and new equipment purchases. However, unlike in the past, under New York's new property tax levy cap law, if the district adopts a contingent budget it cannot increase the current tax levy by any amount—meaning a zero percent tax levy increase. In other words, GCSD would have to levy the same amount of taxes as in the current year or less—without any adjustments for state pension rate increases, contractual obligations or any other costs, mandated or not. For 2014-15, it is anticipated that a contingent budget would require the district to make an additional $1,272,765 in reductions beyond what has already been proposed in the areas of staffing, equipment, maintenance, and transportation.

Q. Who is running for the Board of Education?

A. On May 20, district voters will select three board members from the following candidates (listed alphabetically) to the Board of Education: Chris McManus, Allan Simpson, and Judy Slack. Candidates are vying for 3 three-year terms. All are unpaid positions. Learn more about the candidates

Q. Will there be a bus and equipment proposition on the ballot?

A. A separate proposition will appear on the May 20 ballot to purchase seven new buses and one maintenance plow truck at a total cost of $995,000. Approximately 50 percent of the bus purchase would be returned to the district in the form of future state aid, offsetting the local taxpayer share of the proposition by $497,500. If approved, this proposition will allow the district to replace school buses that have logged on average 125,000 miles over the past 11 to 12 years. The new plow truck would replace a 21-year-old maintenance truck. The entire cost of the bus purchase will be bonded and paid back over a five-year period beginning in the 2015-16 school year. Additional information on the bus and equipment proposition may be found on the district website under the “School Budget News” icon. Learn more about the bus and equipment proposition

Q. How will the STAR program affect my school taxes?

A. Many New Yorkers who own their own home can reduce their school taxes through a School Tax Relief (STAR) exemption. Two different types of exemptions are available: Basic STAR and an enhanced exemption for senior citizens. Exemption amounts for the 2014-15 school year vary by town. For more details, including application and eligibility information, contact your town assessor or visit the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance website.

Q. Why is the tax rate not set prior to the vote?

A. Tax rates are set in August because district officials do not receive certain key pieces of data from local towns until June and August. The Guilderland Board of Education sets a tax levy (i.e., total amount of money the district collects from local taxpayers) for the coming school year before the budget vote in May. The Guilderland Central School District encompasses parts of Guilderland, Bethlehem, New Scotland, and Knox. In the spring, each town prepares an assessment roll for that year listing all parcels of property and the assessed value of each. Information from these rolls is shared with the school district in June. The New York State Office of Real Property Services compares properties in each town, looks at how they are currently assessed and calculates an equalization rate for each town. The equalization rate represents the state’s judgment of how closely assessed values in that town match true market values of the properties. Equalization rates are sent to the school district by late August. The school district then uses the total assessed value of properties in each town and the state equalization rates to calculate the percentage of the school tax levy that must be paid by property owners in that town that year. Each town’s portion of the school tax levy is then divided by the total assessed value of properties in that town to determine the school tax rate (i.e., amount of tax residents pay per $1,000 of home value) for that town.

Q. Does the community really have a say in the budget? Isn’t everything is mandated?

A. Eligible district residents can have a “say” in the school budget every year by sharing their input at school board meetings and budget workshops, voting on the budget, and electing school board members. State and federal mandates, such as Race to the Top (RTTT), have a significant impact on the cost of education and must be factored into the budget. Voters can have a “say” on those mandates by contacting their local representatives to discuss mandate relief. Voters can also contact their elected officials to share their opinions on the cuts in education aid. The more officials hear from their constituents, the better. Learn how to contact your elected officials

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FAQ about the property tax levy cap

Q. What impact did the property tax levy cap have on the proposed budget going before voters on May 20?

A. New York’s property tax levy “cap,” signed into law in June 2011, has often been promoted as a “2 percent cap” on taxes. However, this is incorrect. The law does not restrict any proposed tax levy increase to 2 percent—or any other amount. Instead, the legislation requires each school district in the state to calculate its own tax levy limit to determine the level of voter support that is necessary for budget approval. The figure “2 percent” (or the rate of inflation, if less) is just one of eight variables that factor into each district’s calculation of its individual tax levy limit as prescribed by law. Visit the district's property tax levy cap page for more information on the new legislation and its impact on schools

Q. Is the district proposing a budget that is within its maximum allowable levy limit?

A. For 2014-15, Guilderland Central School District has a tax levy limit plus exclusions of $66,803,142. This is the maximum allowable tax levy the district could propose to pass the budget with a simple majority of voters (50 percent + 1). The spending plan approved by the Board of Education on April 8 calls for a tax levy of $66,790,715. As such, the district’s proposed levy is below the allowable tax levy limit, so the budget requires only a simple majority for approval.

Q. What will the property tax levy law mean for my tax bill?

A. It’s important to remember that the tax levy cap law only determines how much voter support is needed to pass a budget. It does not impose a universal 2 percent cap on taxes or any other specific amount and it applies to the tax levy, not to tax rates or individual bills. There are several factors that dictate how an individual’s school tax bill is calculated after a school district sets the final tax levy—including changes in property values and equalization rates—none of which are within the district’s control. This calculation process did not change under New York’s property tax cap law. Tax bills continue to be calculated by using a property’s assessed value (as determined by the local town assessor) and the tax rate—or the amount paid in taxes per $1,000 of assessed value. Estimate your 2014-15 tax bill under the proposed budget The district sets final tax rates each summer after each town finalizes its assessment rolls. Tax bills can also be affected by STAR or other exclusions for which individual taxpayers may qualify.

Q. How will the new state “tax freeze” affect my school tax bill?

A. As part of the recently adopted state budget, the state Legislature passed a Property Tax Credit that may provide a rebate check to homeowners beginning in the upcoming school year. In the first year of this rebate program, a district must stay within its 2014-15 tax levy cap. In the second year, a district must stay within its 2015-16 tax levy cap and receive state approval for a shared services/efficiency plan that achieves savings equivalent to 1 percent of the tax levy each year for three years. If a district does so, homeowners who are eligible for the School Tax Relief Program, or STAR, will receive a rebate check from the state for a portion of school taxes paid after paying their school tax bills. Residents will still receive a school tax bill in September and will still need to pay their annual taxes under the program. Additional details about the program, including when rebate checks will be mailed, are still forthcoming from the state.

 

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FAQ relating to salaries and benefits

Q. Why do salaries and benefits comprise so much of the budget?

A. Education is a people business. It takes many people to create and maintain a safe and productive learning environment for nearly 5,000 children in seven schools. Guilderland employees teach, transport, coach, and care for the children of our community. They clean the buildings, mow the playing fields, order the supplies, and make the decisions so that our schools run effectively and efficiently. GCSD has nearly 1,000 employees, including many part-timers. Every year, approximately 75 percent of the district’s budget goes to pay their salaries and benefits.

Q. How much flexibility does the district have to adjust employee salaries and benefits as part of the budget process?

A. While Guilderland has the ability to eliminate or reconfigure positions to reduce its costs, the district has negotiated agreements with its various unions and does not have the ability to unilaterally change the salaries and benefits of staff covered by a negotiated agreement. These agreements are legally binding contracts that spell out staff members’ terms of employment, including salaries and benefits. In addition, Guilderland, like all public school districts throughout New York, participates in a state-run pension program. (GCSD does not have its own pension plan.) The district is required by law to offer all employees an opportunity to join the state pension plan and is required to contribute to the plans at a rate set annually by the state. In addition, the district cannot control all of the factors that increase health care costs, such as increased hospital and physician rates and frequency of care. However, the district does have a Health Insurance Committee—comprised of representatives from all of the district’s bargaining units—which meets several times a year to discuss and recommend changes to health care plan designs. Their efforts have resulted in significant cost savings over the past several years.

Q. What happens when negotiated agreements expire? Can’t the district institute a pay freeze for all employees to help offset declining revenues and increased costs?

A. No. Under the Triborough Amendment of the Taylor Law, public employers, including school districts, are prohibited from altering any provision of an expired labor agreement until a new agreement is reached. Consequently, some existing salary and benefit provisions continue at their current rate until a new contract is settled. With several contracts currently open, the district is making every effort to successfully negotiate collective bargaining agreements that reflect these difficult economic times.

Q. Have district employees made any concessions or changes to their benefits to help offset rising costs and declining revenues?

A. Yes, throughout the past several years employees from GCSD’s various bargaining units have made concessions in the form of higher health insurance contributions, lower salary increases than required by contract, and changes in contractual teaching assignments to help address today’s challenging financial climate.

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FAQ relating to programs and services

Q. What has the district done to hold down costs in today’s tough financial environment?

A. Throughout the past few years, GCSD has used several strategies to preserve district programs and services despite declining resources. In addition to implementing operational efficiencies, the district has restructured how it uses time (e.g., school schedules, bus routes, staffing assignments), placed a major focus on collecting and analyzing data to assure that limited resources are directed to where they are most needed, and made changes to the staff health plan design structures to control premium rate increases. Most recently, the district has achieved significant savings in the area of utilities. GCSD is part of an energy consortium and bids with 170 other school districts throughout the state to receive the best prices for electric and natural gas supply costs. That partnership—along with continued energy conservation and recycling efforts throughout the district such as major lighting changes at the high school and the conversion of the district’s phone system—has netted the district nearly $250,000 in projected savings for the upcoming school year.

Q. How is the 2014-15 budget changing in the upcoming school year?

A. In order to preserve programs in the face of declining resources, administrators at all levels reviewed their current program needs and expenses and recommended ways to use available resources more efficiently. As a result, the budget going before voters on May 20 proposes the reduction of 33.85 full-time equivalent (FTE) staffing positions including:
    • 8.50 FTE classroom and special area teaching positions;
    • 9.15 FTE teaching assistant positions; and
    • 16.20 FTE support staff positions spread across all three levels (elementary, middle, and high school) as well as district-wide.

Among these staffing changes is the reduction of kindergarten teaching assistant support from six hours per day to three hours per day—a topic widely discussed at the January community conversation event and at board meetings throughout the past several weeks.

While similar to the superintendent’s proposal presented to the community in February, the budget adopted by the board last month includes an additional 2.0 FTE unassigned teaching positions for the upcoming school year. The spending plan also allocates an additional $479,000 to address the recent realignment of BOCES special education tuition rates and an increase in the district’s need for special education services.

* Special areas include all non-core academic programs including (but not limited to): music, art, physical education, family and consumer science, technology education, business, health, and foreign language.

Q. What programs/services previously identified as "potential reductions" have been maintained in the 2014-15 budget?

A. The proposed spending plan maintains existing levels of first-grade teaching assistant support, high school guidance counselor support, and assistant coaching positions; increases reading teacher support at the elementary level; introduces BOCES enrichment mini-courses at the elementary and middle school levels and distance learning classes at the high school; and calls for a restructuring of the high school “X” program, which utilizes a co-teaching model to integrate English and social studies into one class.

Q. Are any new programs or services included in the proposed budget?

A. Included in the proposed budget going before voters on May 20 are three new programs designed to increase learning opportunities for students in grades K-12 through community partnerships:

BOCES Enrichment Mini-Courses
By partnering with the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES to provide enrichment mini-courses, GCSD will maintain the majority of currently offered enrichment programs at the middle school and also offer a variety of enrichment experiences beyond current offerings (including opportunities in science, technology, and math). The partnership will also enable the district to present new enrichment opportunities at the elementary level.

Distance Learning at GHS
GCSD has the opportunity to expand course offerings through distance learning with two neighboring districts (Niskayuna and Schenectady), giving high school students access to classes they may not otherwise be able to participate in at Guilderland. Participation in the program requires only small upgrades to existing district technology. In addition to the expansion of course offerings, the district will have an opportunity to “export” courses to another district and generate additional BOCES aid.

Regional Summer School
Capital Region BOCES has created a regional summer school model that will enable neighboring districts to jointly offer credit recovery courses to students who fail a course and/or Regents exam during the regular school year. In order to participate in the regional summer school, districts must partner with at least one other district. Guilderland qualifies to serve as a regional summer school host site and will welcome students from Berne-Knox-Westerlo this summer. This partnership will save GCSD more than $52,000 in the upcoming school year while preserving all opportunities for summer school education.

Q. What will be the day-to-day impact, if any, on students due to decreased teaching assistant hours at the kindergarten level?

A. Under the proposed budget, kindergarten teaching assistant (TA) support will be reduced from six hours per day to three hours per day resulting in a savings of $248,000. While this will be a different model for kindergarten classroom teachers, the reduction of TA support hours does not pose any safety risk to students. Prior to proposing this change, the district researched kindergarten classroom models from among all other Suburban Council schools and found that TA support—at any level—is highly uncommon. In fact, only one other Suburban Council school has kindergarten TA support currently in place.

If the budget is approved by voters, administrators and teachers will need to work together to schedule TAs in classrooms at times when they feel additional support would be most beneficial. This may mean a TA would only be in the room to support two content areas, such as reading and math. Much of the day-to-day impact depends on the classroom make-up of students. If there are students who pose behavioral concerns, then the impact would be felt most at times when the TA is not in the room to provide support. The teacher would have to attend to behavioral issues, and this may take time from instruction and other students. If there are classrooms with students who have more academic needs, then the impact would most likely be felt in those areas where the teacher has to instruct content without the support of a TA. The teacher may have to prioritize his/her time for individual students and groups of students based on the needs of the students. Teachers in grades 1-5 already face the same challenges.

Q. How will the "X" program be restructured in the upcoming school year?

A. The budget going before voters on May 20 calls for a restructuring of the high school “X” program, which uses a co-teaching model to integrate English and social studies into one class. While the “X” program will no longer be offered in its current configuration, Guilderland High School has a strong belief in aligning the social studies and English curricula. Therefore, the school will pilot a new program called “Aligned” beginning in September 2014. Aligned classes are not “X” classes, but will present many of the same benefits:
    • Students will be scheduled with the same group of peers in social studies and English.
    • There will not be two teachers in the room, but a section of English and social studies will be scheduled at the same time. This will provide opportunities for teachers to switch rooms or bring both groups together in a large group instruction area.
    • Teachers will have common planning time to align the learning experiences in the two content areas.

Additional details of the “Aligned” program are still being developed. Please look for more information on the district website later this spring.

Q. Why do I see empty school buses?

A. When you seen an empty school bus, it is likely just beginning or has just finished its pick-up route, or it may be a bus transporting students to schools out of the district. The occupancy level for a school bus is influenced by several factors, including the number of students in a district, the number of square miles in a district, and transportation requirements set by state education law. Guilderland currently has more than 5,700 students (GSCD students, private/parochial students, and special needs students) eligible to ride our buses. In addition, these students may be transported to/from any one of eight in-district schools or more than 50 out-of-district placements on any given day. Transportation to afterschool care facilities is also provided by the district. Making routing even more complex is the fact that Guilderland Central School District is approximately 50 square miles in size—with many rural routes. The number of school busses on the road and the number of students on those busses reflects these factors and is designed to meet legal requirements for the amount of time that students can spend on a bus.

In the fall of 2009, the Board of Education commissioned a committee of school officials and Board of Education members to facilitate a consultant study of our per pupil transportation routing system to address the following two issues:

Could bus routes and bell times be restructured to increase the student instructional day by up to 20 minutes at the elementary level?

Could bus routes be reconfigured to increase efficiency and lower costs while still providing an acceptable level of service?

The committee met on numerous occasions to review five possible scenarios for change in the district's transportation program. On March 23, 2010, committee members presented a report to the Board of Education and community indicating their recommendations.  Read the complete report (PDF) or view the Committee's PowerPoint presentation to the BOE (PDF)

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