Superintendent’s draft 2023-24 budget presented at the Mar. 7 board of education meeting

On Tuesday, Mar. 7, Guilderland Central School District Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marie Wiles and and Assistant Superintendent for Business Dr. Andrew Van Alstyne presented the draft budget for the 2023-24 school year to the board of education and the Guilderland community. This presentation of the first draft of the 2023-24 spending plan provided a review of the district’s priorities, financial context for the budget development process and a summary of recommended changes for the next school year.

“As always, there are key questions that guide our budget development work,” said Dr. Wiles. “We ask ‘what are our priorities, what do our students need, what can we afford now and sustain over time in our general operating budget?’ By answering these questions and gathering data, we are best able to plan for the future so we can continue to serve our students well.”

Highlights of the 2023-24 draft budget presentation

The proposed plan recognizes the priorities shared by GCSD stakeholders through ThoughtExchanges, which include reducing class sizes, with a focus on Farnsworth Middle School. The draft budget also preserves student programs, services and social and emotional supports, while addressing increased costs that are often out of the district’s control: contract transportation costs, health insurance and tax certiorari refunds. In addition, this budget was drafted to plan for the end of federal COVID-relief funds. District leaders have worked to create a fiscally responsible budget; they acknowledge that there are still some unknown factors that will have an effect on the budget the board adopts, such as final state aid allocations.

District mission: Dr. Wiles began the presentation by revisiting the district’s mission and vision statements, which drive everything the district does. When developing the budget, district administrators make decisions with “each and every child in mind…to create an environment that’s safe and welcoming, but also rigorous, engaging and interesting; one that will prepare students for the world that comes beyond school.”

ThoughtExchanges: In November 2022, nearly 3,000 students, staff and parents/guardians completed a ThoughtExchange to provide input on priorities for the 2023-24 general operating budget. Dr. Wiles reviewed the top priorities that came out of the ThoughtExchange:

  • Parents/Guardians
    • Enhance school safety
    • Maintain/lower class sizes
    • Improve student learning
  • Faculty/Staff
    • Enhance school safety
    • Maintain/lower class sizes
    • Increase salaries for teaching assistants and add teaching assistant positions
    • Increase focus on mental health/social-emotional wellness
    • Improve student learning/focus on literacy
  • Students
    • Improve WiFi
    • Enhance school safety/lockdown procedures

It is important to note that several topics arose in the ThoughtExchange that are not covered by the general operating budget: to improve school lunch, improve buildings/facilities and recognize additional holidays by the district. These priority areas will be addressed through other avenues.

The board of education also completed a ThoughtExchange to offer input for the 2034-24 school year. The following are their primary focus areas:

  • Maintain programs/services
  • Focus on student/staff mental health
  • Develop plan to build respect for all (DEI)
  • Refocus board goals: assess and adjust
  • Reduce class size at Farnsworth Middle School
  • Student and staff safety

Many of the board’s priorities align with those of parents/guardians, staff and students.

Enrollment projections: Enrollment data is the foundation for budget development work. District administrators need to know how many students they will be serving and where those students are in the school system. GCSD is projecting a slight increase in the number of students enrolled for the 2023-24 school year and anticipates incremental increases yearly. It is estimated that enrollment in grades K-12 will increase over the next five years to 5,008 by 2027-28.

Cost drivers: There are several factors contributing to the budget-to-budget increase, including capital borrowing, which is aidable by New York state, as well as professional services. GCSD administration does not have direct control over some of these cost drivers, which can have a significant impact on the district’s budget, such as unresolved tax certiorari claims, their associated legal costs, health insurance, contract transportation and fuel costs. Many of these expense categories are subject to rising prices as the result of inflation.

Reduced class sizes: Identified as a district-wide priority by parents/guardians, staff and the board of education, reducing class size continues to be an important initiative. Last year the district began the work by creating two additional sections for grade 8. In the 2023-24 school year, GCSD plans to transition grades 6 and 7 from 14 homerooms to 16. Smaller class sizes help to address gaps in learning, behavioral issues, social emotional/mental health issues and space concerns in classrooms, particularly in classes that require equipment and/or work stations such as family and consumer sciences (FACs), technology and science. The rise in enrollment at FMS is a long-term trend that is expected to continue. Transitioning to 16 sections in grades 6 and 7 requires the addition of 4.0 FTEs in core areas (math, science, social studies and ELA), 1.6 FTEs in encore areas (art, music, physical education, health, technology and family and consumer sciences) and .8 FTEs in World Language, for a total of an additional 6.4 FTEs. This will result in average class sizes of 24 students for grade 6 and 24.9 students for grade 7.

Additional recommendations: Ranging from a long-term School Resource Officer at FMS to increased AIS support at Guilderland High School to the addition of a unified bocce team, the many additional recommendations will enable the district to continue to meet the needs of all students through instruction, social-emotional support and extracurricular activities.

The use of grant funds: There are items in the 2022-23 and 2023-24 budgets that are funded through federal grant dollars. The district has used these funds judiciously as they are finite; federal grant funds will sunset by the end of the 2023-24 school year.

Currently, GCSD is using these funds in the areas of pupil support services, literacy, special education, world languages and summer curriculum development. In addition to continuing these items, federal grants will also support equipment, equipment repair, materials and supplies for science, art, music and FACs in 2023-2024. Thus, these expenditures will be outside of the general operating budget next year.

In addition, a diversity, equity and inclusion 1.0 FTE teacher on special assignment (TOSA) is proposed to be funded by grant dollars. This teacher will assist DEI Director Matthew Pinchinat in tackling the workload outlined by the seven equity teams in their equity action plans. The district will test the TOSA model for DEI; if the model is effective, this item will be addressed in the general operating budget for the 2024-25 school year.

Important upcoming dates

March 21, 2023: Budget Workshop Q & A
Week of March 20: Virtual Focus Groups to Discuss Budget
March 28, 2023: Budget Work Session
April 4, 2023: Board Action to Adopt the Proposed Budget
May 2, 2023: Budget Hearing
May 16, 2023: Budget Vote and Election

Watch the draft budget presentation at the Mar. 7 board of education meeting.

View the 2023-24 draft budget presentation.

Previous budget presentations

State aid and tax levy limit budget presentation, Feb. 14, 2023

Rollover budget presentation, Dec. 6, 2022

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