The Board of Education held a public hearing on the Alternative Veterans Exemption, a state program that allows local governments to exempt a portion of the property values of eligible veterans from school tax bills. Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. outlined the exemption, followed by public input. The exemption was authorized in the mid-1980s for municipal government (counties, towns, etc.) and in 2013 the state extended school districts the option to offer it. If they do so, districts choose from a range of exemption levels. The state does not provide revenue to offset the exemption, which means taxes would be redistributed if it is approved. For example, at the minimum level, the owner of a house assessed at $250,000 in Niskayuna would have paid an estimated $11 more in taxes in the current year if the exemption had been in place. An eligible veteran who served during wartime and owns a $250,000 house in Niskayuna would have saved an estimated $101 this year if exemption had been in place. The value of the exemption is greater for combat veterans and disabled veterans. The Board has not made a decision on the exemption. It will be on the Feb. 8 agenda for discussion. View the Alternative Veterans Exemption presentation from the public hearing [PDF].
Board members have attended recent PTO meetings, the Common Core Math Nights, winter athletic contests, the Birchwood Bingo Night, and the monthly Student Forum meeting. Board members also reported the following:
Student representative Noah Rohde has been in contact with middle school student council advisors about talking with students about governance and civic engagement. He is working with Director of Art Kelly Jones on the project to visually display the district's mission statement in the Board Room, and he recently met with U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko to talk about strengthening the connection between the high school and the congressman's office.
Executive Budget Proposal - Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. said that the school aid included in the Governor's recent Executive Budget Proposal is only a starting point in the state budget negotiations, but it fell far short of the funding that Niskayuna and districts around the state need for 2016-17. The Governor proposes to restore only about a third of the district's $1.6 million Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) next year, and the district would receive no Foundation Aid increase. Further, local revenue for schools will be extremely limited by the tax cap this year because a change in CPI that is close to zero percent (0.12 percent) will factor in the required tax cap calculation. Given the tax cap and the state aid cuts of recent years, Dr. Tangorra said a significant increase in state aid beyond the Governor's proposal is needed as the district looks to maintain offerings, make restorations, and improve programs. He will be sending a letter to state Senator Hugh Farley and Assemblyman Phil Steck to inform them about how the Governor's proposal impacts the district.
Communications Guide - Dr. Tangorra said that when parents and community members have a question or concern, it is important that they contact the person in the organization who can most effectively help them. The district has created a document to serve as a guide in this respect. It indicates who should be contacted based on the nature of an issue, and outlines subsequent levels of contact if necessary. Dr. Tangorra said this will help ensure questions and concerns are addressed in an orderly, thoughtful and efficient manner. View the Communications Guide
Assistant Superintendent Lauren Gemmill reported on the recent K-2 and 3-5 Common Core parent math nights. They were designed to show parents the math concepts being taught in elementary classrooms and strategies to help students at home. A total of about 170 parents attended the two sessions. Ms. Gemmill complimented Math Director Bill Wales, Birchwood Principal Debra Berdt, Hillside Principal Shireen Fasciglione, and elementary teachers for their work in developing and presenting the information. She said the district is clearly making the instructional shifts required by the Common Core and students are benefiting. The next step is to continue to identify ways to support parents with understanding and familiarity around the instructional strategies being used in the classroom, particularly at grades 3-5. The district has established an Elementary Math Resources web page for parents, which also features a video of Niskayuna teaches and instructional leaders talking about how students are learning math at a deeper level in today's classrooms.
The Board is reviewing policies at each meeting as it transitions to a new policy manual. The following policies were approved at the meeting:
All policies are on the district website here.