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Niskayuna debates closing elementary school

NISKAYUNA -- The Niskayuna Central School District Board of Education agreed to table a vote to close Birchwood Elementary late Tuesday night after a more than four hour meeting.

More than 40 speakers addressed the board during the two hour public comment session. Many spoke against the closure and said the estimated $415,000 savings would not do enough to curb the estimated $2.6 million budget gap. A few said the district needed to come to terms with the financial realities of the district.

Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio told the board closing Birchwood would impact the fewest children and help right-size classrooms while having a minimal impact on bus ride times.

She also blamed the problems on a lack of funding from the state. Salvaggio estimates the district has lost $11.9 million in the Gap Elimination Adjustment and is projected to lose $2.9 million under the current proposed budget by Gov. Cuomo.

Several board members questioned whether all options had been exhausted and asked for a list of items that could and could not be cut. They then unanimously agreed to spend the next week considering the comments and reviewing the budget ahead of a February 4 meeting.

The board indicated they intend to vote at the next board meeting. Salvaggio said the board needs to decide soon if it wants to close a building so the district can begin making the appropriate preparations for the 2014-2015 school year.

Board President Deb Oriola said the board is not currently looking to go over the property tax cap following voters' rejection of a 5.76 percent tax hike last year. Taxpayers ultimately approved a more modest 3.95 percent increase, which met its cap.