On Tuesday, May 17, North Colonie Central School District residents will go to the polls to vote on a proposed $105.3 million budget for the 2016-17 school year. The proposed budget, which preserves all programming, increases spending by 2.6 percent over the current year’s budget and carries a proposed tax levy increase of 2.41 percent. Since the levy increase is within the district’s tax levy limit as calculated under the state’s tax levy “cap” law, the budget would require a simple majority to pass.
Throughout the budget process this year, the driving force behind many of the decisions was a growth in enrollment the district is currently experiencing and will continue to for many years. A recent demographic study forecasts an additional 939 students enrolling over the next ten years, mostly populating grades K-6. In addition, the Capital District Regional Planning Commission projects that the district will experience 800 new housing units coming online between 2016 and 2020. With the increase in enrollment, comes a greater number of students who are in need of support, academically and socially. Additional staffing to enhance services for the district’s special needs and English as a New Language (ENL) learners (as mandated by New York state) is part of the 2016-17 budget, as well as a greater infusion of technology for students grades K-12. In addition, the budget includes the transfer of $3 million to the district’s capital fund to complete needed improvements in district school buildings. With a growth in taxable value in the Town of Colonie, it is estimated that tax rates will increase by 0.6 percent, one of the lowest percentages in years.
6.5 special education teaching positions are included in the proposed budget, which aligns with the NYS Education Department guidelines stipulating the re-organization of special education classrooms. This will result in smaller class sizes with more direct support services for students.
Two additional English as a New Language teachers are proposed for the elementary level, to continue to phase in a NYS co-teaching mandate. In addition to the stand-alone ENL classes, schools are now required to provide ENL assistance within the general classroom, giving students an additional layer of support.
At the beginning of this school year, administrators took technology requests from building principals and department supervisors in conjunction with instructional technology resource teachers (iTRTs) and teachers. Requests stipulated why the technology is needed and how it will be implemented. After careful review, $465,000 of instructional technology was incorporated into the proposed budget, including Chromebooks, iPads and laptops. In addition, under the SMART schools bond act, North Colonie has a $1.8 million allocation of funds that is not part of its regular district budget, giving the district a means to upgrade and enhance its instructional technology infrastructure in the future. This year, the district plans to use $900,000 of the allocated funds to purchase additional technology outside of the proposed 2016-17 budget. Teachers will work closely with iTRTs to implement the technology into their instructional practices in a thoughtful, meaningful way.
“This infusion of instructional technology, combined with the professional support from our instructional technology resource teachers, will allow us to create engaging instructional experiences in which students can collaborate, create, and stretch the boundaries of their learning beyond the school walls,” said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Kathleen Skeals.
The district’s goal was to craft a budget that not only aligns spending and uses savings gained from attrition to fund educational priorities, but also puts the district in a position where it can continue on a path to sustainability in the coming years. The district anticipates no use of fund balance this year.
“The 2016-17 budget represents our school community’s commitment to high educational quality and strong fiscal prudence,” said Superintendent Joseph Corr. “Sustainability is a constant theme that runs through our educational program and our fiscal management. We have achieved this sustainability in both areas.”