Superintendent’s draft 2024-25 budget presented at the Mar. 5 board of education meeting

On Tuesday, March 5, Guilderland Central School District Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marie Wiles and Assistant Superintendent for Business Dr. Andrew Van Alstyne presented the draft budget for the 2024-25 school year to the Board of Education and Guilderland community. This first draft of the district’s proposed spending plan for 2024-25 provided an overview of the district’s priorities, financial context for the budget development process, a summary of the recommended changes for the following school year and the next steps in the budget development process.

Highlights of the 2024-25 draft budget presentation

Dr. Wiles began her presentation by reviewing the key questions the district aims to address in its spending plan, which include “what are our priorities?”, “what do our students need?”, and “what can we afford now and sustain over time in our operating budget?”. The last key question proved critical in this year’s budget development as federal COVID funds are due to expire by September 2024; over the last few years, these funds enabled GCSD to support initiatives outside of its general spending plan. When crafting the budget for the 2024-25 school year, district administrators had to consider which items were grant funded that could be moved into the general operating budget.

District mission: “We always begin with our mission,” said Dr. Wiles, which is at the heart of everything the district does. During budget development, administrators take into account the “individual needs of each and every child…and what makes them unique.” GCSD strives to meet students where they’re at, in addition to providing a safe and welcoming environment for all, while “collaborating with parents to pursue academic excellence and personal growth.” At the core of this work is preparing students for the future, which guides the decision-making of administrators during budget development. “…we’re always thinking about what’s next for our children and how we’re preparing them for that,” said Dr. Wiles.

Budget survey: In January, nearly 2,000 students, staff, parents/guardians and community members completed a budget survey to provide their input on priorities for the 2024-25 general operating budget. Dr. Wiles reviewed the top priorities that came out of the budget survey:

  • Parents/Guardians/Community Members
    • Maintain low class sizes
    • Preserve offerings in the arts
    • Preserve rigorous academic programming
    • Continue support for students who require academic assistance
    • Continue support for students’ social-emotional learning
  • Faculty/Staff
    • Maintain low class sizes
    • Increase paraprofessional support
    • Continue support for students who require academic assistance
    • Continue support for students’ social-emotional learning
    • Preserve offerings in the arts
  • Students
    • Preserve athletic programs
    • Preserve offerings in the arts
    • Preserve a wide variety of electives
    • Continue support for students who require academic support
    • Maintain low class sizes

Furthermore, the Board of Education completed a separate budget survey on their priorities for the 2024-25 school year. Survey results revealed the following focus areas:

  • Maintain low class sizes
  • Preserve offerings in the arts
  • Continue support for social-emotional learning
  • Preserve rigorous academic programs
  • Increase teaching assistant support

It’s important to note there are several commonalities between the board’s priorities and those of parents/guardians, staff and students. In addition, Dr. Wiles outlined four areas of focus the board has been working on since 2020; these goals will carry GCSD through 2025 and include:

  • Closing the achievement or opportunity gap
  • Focus on the whole child
  • Focus on diversity
  • Facilities

Enrollment projections: Enrollment data is the foundation of budget development work. District administrators need to know how many students they will be serving and where those students are in the school system. According to Dr. Van Alstyne, GCSD is projecting a slight increase in enrollment for the 2024-25 school year, with a “significant redistribution” among grades. Elementary enrollment is expected to drop next year, while enrollment at the middle and high schools is anticipated to be slightly higher. The long-term projection for grades K-12 is that as elementary students move up to the middle and high schools, there will be a “larger cohort to replace it.”

Cost drivers: There are several factors beyond the district’s control that contribute to the year-over-year budget increase, including facilities repairs, capital borrowing, health insurance and contract transportation. Tax certiorari claims in particular have been one of the district’s biggest financial challenges over the last several years. Between 2020-21 and 2022-23, GCSD paid $5.7 million in property tax refunds as a result of these claims. To date, GCSD has one outstanding claim to repay to Crossgates, for $4.75 million. The district will issue a bond for this refund. Borrowing will allow the district to, “balance this year’s students with next year’s students” and spread out the cost, as adding the claim to a single budget would “have a substantial impact on stakeholder priorities,” according to Dr. Van Alstyne.

2024-25 budget overview: Dr. Van Alstyne presented a bar graph showing the breakdown of GCSD’s 2024-25 budget and the specific areas where funds are distributed:

  • Staff/Faculty salaries: 50.4%
  • Benefits: 25.8%
  • Debt Service: 7.3%
  • Contract Services: 6.3%
  • BOCES: 6.3%
  • Other: 3.9%

Like most school districts, a majority of GCSD’s budget is dedicated to staff salaries and benefits, which has increased over the last few years due to inflation.

Reduced class sizes: Maintaining and/or reducing class sizes is a high-priority across the district and its various stakeholder groups. “We are working very hard to maintain those lower class sizes,” said Dr. Wiles.

At the elementary level, class sizes range from 18 to 23 students; there are four grades close to the cap, including kindergarten at Altamont Elementary, second and fourth grade at Westmere Elementary, and second grade at Lynnwood Elementary. Four unassigned FTEs are built into the budget for the district to use in the upcoming months as changes in enrollment happen; this gives GCSD the flexibility to add or reduce sections if needed. In fact, there will be six fewer FTEs for elementary schools next year due to declining enrollment.

At the middle school level, GCSD is keeping the commitment it made last year to reduce class sizes in grades six and seven. Next school year, the district anticipates having 16 sections of each grade, with class sizes ranging from the low to mid-twenties.


Elementary: Two enrichment teaching positions are currently vacant due to changes in staffing; these positions were funded through ARP-ESSER. Knowing these federal COVID funds were set to expire and many other district needs remain, the decision was made not to refill these positions. This allowed the district to restore two reading positions at Altamont Elementary and Lynnwood Elementary, which are currently funded through federal COVID dollars. These positions have been added to the general operating budget, enabling the district to continue providing reading support to its elementary students. Similarly, a social worker position at Westmere Elementary and Guilderland Elementary has been added to the district’s budget, to ensure social-emotional support for students continues.

Middle School: Students in World Languages have advocated for extra learning support; with this in mind, GCSD plans on incorporating a full-time Spanish teaching position within its general operating budget, as 0.2 FTE was previously grant funded. Additional reading support will be provided for sixth grade, with 0.2 FTE allocated to the position. GCSD is currently piloting unified physical education at Farnsworth Middle School and intends on continuing the program in the future; 0.1 FTE will be used to maintain the program in 2024-25. Lastly, the district anticipates renewing its three-year contract with i-Ready for math curriculum. The three-year contract is more cost effective compared to purchasing a single year, which will save GCSD approximately $17,000 over the life of the contract.

High School: The district proposes to expand clerical support at Guilderland High School, specifically in the counseling office by 90 minutes per day. This will allow counseling staff to devote more time to students and their social-emotional needs, ensuring students are supported when most vulnerable. The district proposes adding more staff to its World Language program at GHS, specifically in Spanish and Italian. 0.4 FTE will be used to reinstate Spanish 2, which is currently not offered due to staff shortage; 0.2 FTE will be allocated for Italian, based on enrollment data. Additionally, graphing calculators at GHS need to continually be repaired or replenished, which has been accounted for in next year’s budget. GHS cafeteria tables will be replaced with bench-style seating, allowing for quick fold-up and quick cleaning. Lastly, the nurse’s office will replace its privacy curtains with weighted, fire-resistant and machine washable curtains.

Staffing/Service Recommendations: Enrollment data has shown an increase in the number of students in self-contained classrooms at the elementary level. With a total of 35 students, GCSD needs to have four classrooms to support the needs of these students; currently one classroom is grant funded and will be added to the general operating budget for 2024-25. The total cost of $379,400 for the elementary comprehensive skills program will include 1.0 FTE for a special education teacher, 4.0 FTE for four teaching assistants, 1.0 FTE for speech, and 0.4 FTE for a social worker. For the past three years, the district’s elementary self-contained classrooms have been located at Altamont Elementary, however GCSD proposes to relocate them next year to reduce travel time and to increase mainstream learning opportunities; two classrooms will move to Guilderland Elementary and two will move to Pine Bush Elementary.

District-wide staffing/service recommendations: One of the district’s top priorities is its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. This year a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) was hired to support DEI work; currently the position is grant-funded. “This is an ongoing priority for our Board of Education and our whole school community, so we would like to shift that position into the general operating budget,” said Dr. Wiles, which will help support the district’s DEI initiatives at the classroom level.

Athletics: GCSD has expanded its athletic programming in recent years to include girls golf, girls wrestling, unified bocce and eSports; the district has increased the amount of funding in the regular athletic budget to ensure these programs are supported in the future. In addition, GCSD plans on purchasing new uniforms for a majority of its teams, with a focus on younger athletes who typically receive years old hand-me-downs. Another top priority for the district is preparing young athletes for the junior varsity and varsity levels of their sport. Currently, only GHS has a boys volleyball team, with no feeder program at the middle school. “This has put us at a tremendous disadvantage,” said Dr. Wiles. “Our priority is to support our existing programs and put them in a position to be successful.” With this in mind, GCSD proposes incorporating a boys modified volleyball program at FMS.

Music: Preserving offerings in the arts is important to all GCSD stakeholders; this includes the district’s music program, which has been recognized for its comprehensive curriculum, show-stopping performances and talented musicians. To ensure the program’s continued success, GCSD has allocated funds for musical accompanists to assist groups during performances next year. The district has also added musical equipment back into its 2024-25 general operating budget after using grant funds the previous two years. Lastly, GCSD has added $2,000 for repairs to musical equipment, bringing the total repair budget to $11,000.

Additional recommendations: GCSD, like most other school districts, is grappling with a bus driver shortage. “Our severe driver shortage has really had a tremendous impact on our overall budget as we try to navigate that shortage and its implications,” said Dr. Wiles. The district currently uses contract services to meet its transportation needs; during the 2023-24 school year there was an increase in these services. GCSD is working to bring back some of the routes that have been contracted out, if possible. The draft 2024-25 budget shows an increase of $480,660 for contract transportation services, however the district is trying to reduce that number going forward.

Facilities upgrades are also needed, with the bleachers in the GHS East Gym slated to be replaced this summer. With an eye on the future and how it can best prepare students for success, the district’s Future Ready Task Force is solely dedicated to this mission. The group, which meets regularly, is determining how the district can transform its teaching and learning spaces to further support the success of students. Composed of 50 school community stakeholders, the task force has five subcommittees that address elementary programs, humanities, STEAM/career skills, performing arts and gathering spaces. The short-term goal for the task force is to bring a recommendations to a facilities committee with a potential capital project referendum going before voters in May 2025.

Important upcoming dates

  • March 26, 2024: Board of Education Budget Work Session
  • April 16, 2024: Board Action to Adopt the Proposed Budget
  • May 7, 2024: Budget Hearing
  • May 21, 2024: Budget Vote and Election


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