Feb. 9 Capital Project Q&A

Scroll down to read all the questions or click on a question here to go directly to it.

Q. What happens if the proposal is not approved?

A. State law requires district borrowing for facilities improvements to be approved by voters. If the capital project is defeated, then the work that is proposed will not move forward. District facilities would continue to age, but there would be no state funding to update and improve program spaces and fix or replace issues that need to be addressed. In this scenario, when something fails, such as the Glencliff roof or an old boiler, the work would need to be paid for out of the operating budget, displacing money that currently funds student programs and services. The track would either continue to not be fully usable or would have a significant impact on the operating budget if it were to be fixed. The reason the district is bringing the project forward at this time is because facilities need attention and debt for prior improvements will be paid off in the coming years. Given the capital reserve fund, state aid and the fact that payments for facilities improvements are already part of the budget, the district is able to propose an investment of more than $79 million in improvements with an added tax rate impact for two years only. If a capital project is instead delayed until the future, it would result in a greater tax increase because debt levels were not kept stable and the cost of construction generally goes up over time.

Q. If the work is approved, when will students benefit from the new space? When will the new grade-level configuration take effect?

A. If voters approve Proposition #1 or both propositions, the next step is an additional level of design so that detailed plans can be submitted to the New York State Education Department. The project timeline anticipates state approval by late 2021 or early 2022, followed by bidding, with the goal of starting construction in the summer of 2022. The project is expected to be completed in phases from 2024 to 2026. The new grade-level configuration would take effect during that period, with the exact time dependent on the construction schedule.

Q. Didn’t the district just complete a significant capital project?

A. The district completed its last substantial capital project in 2010, or 11 years ago. In that time, buildings and systems have continued to age. Additionally, that project was approved in 2006, with the planning taking place in the years before. That means that if the proposed work moves forward, it will be completed about two decades after that last significant project was planned. Much like maintaining a home, it’s difficult to get to everything that needs attention at once, so work needs to be spread out over time as the district plans to do.

Q. If people prefer to vote by mail due to the pandemic, do they have this option?

A. Yes. Anyone who would like to vote by absentee ballot for this reason should request an absentee ballot application by contacting District Clerk Cynthia Gagnon at cgagnon@niskyschools.org or (518) 377-46666, ext. 50706.

Q. There is no added tax impact for Proposition #1 and two years of added tax impact for Proposition #2. If we don’t take on new debt through this project, does this provide an opportunity to reduce expenses and taxes?

A. While paying off debt and not making any new improvements might result in reduced expenses for a short-term period, the concern is that this would present even more challenges and greater tax increases in the long run. If we do not address this work now, the need for it does not go away. Systems that need attention now would only fall into further disrepair and other aspects of the district would continue to age as well. If we only repair things when they fail, we cannot maximize state funding. If we don’t replace debt for previous investments with new work that has become necessary, we could wind up in a situation where even more things need to be taken care of at once and there is no capacity in the budget to do it with. This could cause a more significant tax increase down the road. This plan is designed to avoid that.

Q. Why can Proposition #2 pass only if Proposition #1 passes? What does this mean?

A. This means that for Proposition #2 to be approved, two things must happen: Proposition #1 must pass and Proposition #2 needs to receive more “Yes” votes than “No” votes. If Proposition #1 is not approved, then even if more people vote “Yes” than “No” on Proposition #2, it will not be successful. The reason for this is because the work in Proposition #2, such as additional middle school renovations and outdoor athletic improvements, build on work that is included in Proposition #1.

Q. If the work is approved, does it impact next year’s budget and taxes? What about future district budgets?

A. If voters approve the capital project, the district does not anticipate debt for the new work coming online until the year 2023, which means the outcome of the vote will not affect next year’s district budget. If the work is approved, some of it may result in increased operating cost in the future, such as the need to maintain more square footage, while other aspects of the improvements would be more efficient. New boilers can be expected to bring down heating costs and new roofs (Glencliff, Rosendale, Iroquois) would result in less money being spent on repairs. New lighting and electrical systems, as part of the renovations at the middle schools, would also help the district be more energy efficient.

Q. Could repairs be paid for out of the Capital Reserve Fund directly instead of as part of a capital project?

No. The Capital Reserve Funds can only be used as part of a voter-approved capital project. There are clear advantages to this approach. State aid is available for voter-approved capital projects as well, which means that a portion of the project will be funded based on the district’s state aid ratio (73.8 cents of every dollar spent on aid-eligible facilities improvements is funded by New York State). Even if we could pay for repairs out of the Capital Reserve Fund directly, this would mean the district would be foregoing state funding and local taxpayers would be funding every dollar of improvements, which is not desirable. This demonstrates why using a Capital Reserve Fund toward a voter-approved facilities project helps achieve the greatest amount of facilities improvements with the most value for taxpayers.

Q. How is the Capital Reserve Fund being used for this project different from the fund balance that is part of the operating fund budget process?

While fund balance is a part of the development of the general fund operating budget each year, the Capital Reserve Fund can only be used toward voter-approved facilities improvement projects. It is money that has been set aside for this purpose only.

Q. Could the district set aside money in the annual operating budget each year to make these kinds of improvements?

The magnitude of the systemic improvements that are proposed (e.g., new roofs, boilers and a classroom addition and renovations) are not generally line items in a school district’s operating budget. The most effective means of systems replacement and construction work is through a voter-approved capital project that generates state aid and spreads the cost of the work over a period of years. The district is at a particularly advantageous point to do this with debt from previous projects due to be paid off in the coming years. This means that the funding needed to pay off the new improvements is already included in the district budget so the district can accomplish the proposed work while minimizing the impact on tax rates.

Q. What is the life expectancy of these improvements versus the repayment period?

The repayment period is 15 years. Many of the improvements generally will outlive this time period. For example a classroom addition, new boilers, and other system upgrades should last longer than this period. Although other improvements may need care and attention within that time, such as field improvements or classroom modernization, much of the infrastructure that is put in place, from drainage and grading to new classroom flooring and fixtures, will last for a substantial time period.

Q. Are the debt payments a fixed interest rate or could they possibly go up in the future?

The long-term bond payments will have a fixed interest rate. The only time they would change is if the district has an opportunity to refinance to decrease the rates.

Q. What energy efficiency improvements has the district considered with these improvements?

The district’s goal is to reduce its carbon footprint and to be as energy efficient as possible. In this project, new boilers (proposed for Birchwood and Hillside) and middle school classroom and outdoor athletic lighting will be more efficient. New roofing (proposed for Glencliff, Iroquois and Rosendale) will also have better insulation, enhancing the efficiency of heating systems. Beyond this project, the district is focused on how it can be more energy efficient.

Q. How was it decided to split up the project among the two propositions?

The district split the projects up between these two propositions to provide taxpayers with an option for no added tax rate impact, while also putting forward a proposal that enabled substantial outdoor facilities improvements (NHS), which generally come with lower levels of state aid, with only two years of impact to the tax rate. The district’s debt service schedule was a major factor in how the propositions were structured, providing the ability to make this package of improvements, timed with the retirement of debt in the coming years, to minimize the overall tax impact.

Q. What are the health and safety improvements in Proposition #2?

The health and safety improvements in Proposition #2 include additional work at the Niskayuna High School athletic facility such as a bus pull-off, a roadway and site accessibility, improved traffic flow around Rosendale and work to make the field area between Iroquois and Rosendale usable.

Q. How would the propositions strengthen art and technology programs?

With the new configuration, at the middle school, students in 8th grade could complete high school requirements such as Studio in Art or Drawing and Design & Production, which would also enhance their high school experience by freeing up more time in their schedule to explore more courses in art, engineering technology or other areas. Also, at the middle school, 5th grade students could potentially have a technology course. Additionally, classroom renovations and modernization at the middle school level will enhance the learning experience in art, technology and other areas.

Q. Considering the state’s budget challenges, is state aid for this project guaranteed?

While the state funding for this project is not explicitly guaranteed, New York State has a long history of fulfilling its commitments to fund school facility improvements, including through economic downturns.

Q. Is safety and security being considered as part of this capital project?

Yes. In terms of security, if the project is approved, the detailed design phase of the middle school renovations in particular would include considerations related to issues such as building entry, continuing to control visitor access, interior doors, etc. Additionally, health and safety is a driving factor in this project, from addressing deteriorating roofs to traffic patterns at the middle schools to traffic, accessibility and field conditions at the high school.

Q. Does the district anticipate needing more or less space as the result of COVID-19 and the potential for remote learning in the future?

Construction is expected to be complete in phases between 2024 and 2026. District officials do expect remote learning to continue to be a part of education even after the pandemic is over. However, they do not anticipate remote learning taking place to the extent that it makes an appreciable impact in the overall number of classrooms needed in the district. Additionally, while mild to moderate enrollment growth is projected in the coming years, district officials were conservative in how enrollment growth factored into this proposal to avoid a situation where unnecessary space was added.

Q. If bids for any aspect of the work come in over or under budget, how will it be handled? For example, if bids come in higher than anticipated for something in the first proposition, does that mean it doesn’t get done or could it still be accomplished?

The district is committed to maximum transparency with this project. If the proposal is approved, the community will receive regular updates about the plan, including the construction timeline, details about the work that is moving forward, or any adjustments due to budget or other factors. In the life cycle of a facilities improvement program of this magnitude, it is normal for some work to cost more than anticipated and some to cost less. In the case of a bid coming in higher than anticipated, this does not mean that specific project would not get done. The district would have to evaluate options at the time, including how the overall budget for the improvements is faring. Because the work in the second proposition is directly related to that in the first, if Proposition #2 is approved, it would provide additional flexibility to address priority items. One certainty is that if the voters approve the propositions, the district will not spend any more money than authorized by the community.