CHATHAM — The Chatham School District’s Board of Education is looking at all the ways it can save money in future budgets. The need to save has become more important than ever, as the state’s 2% cap on property tax increases changes the way schools can raise money and state and federal aid is cut, schools Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo said in an interview last week.
By starting now to address these changes, “We have time for a thoughtful process,” she said of any changes the district might make in transportation and facilities as officials look for savings.
One of the options on the table is to study a merger with the New Lebanon s School District, like the one Ichabod Crane and Schodack Central Schools are involved in right now. The state offers grants to districts looking into functional consolidation, though Ms. Nuciforo stressed the study would also consider ways the districts can share services. “We want to get a sense of what all our options are,” she said.
New Lebanon Superintendent Karen McGraw said in an email to this paper, “New Lebanon’s School Board is interested in pursuing a Functional Consolidation Study Grant with Chatham because we wish to provide the best educational program for our students in the most cost effective manner. We hope that this study would gather data needed to explore possible ways that services could be shared and/or programming could be merged.”
The districts still have to apply for the grant, and the study can takes several months, so nothing will be known for at least year about merger or sharing services. Ichabod Crane and Schodack’s consolidation study committee met over several months and plans to report to the two school boards this month. If the boards agree a merger is right for both districts they must present the proposal to the community for a vote.
Chatham currently shares special education services with Ichabod Crane but does not share any programs or services with New Lebanon.
Ms. Nuciforo said the school board is also looking at having a facilities and transportation study. The board will announce the consultant on that study later this month, said Ms. Nuciforo, but she said the board plans to use the same consulting firm that conducted a transportation study three years ago that led to the district adopting a one-bell system. Buses now make one run in the morning and in the afternoon, picking up students from all grades k-12 instead of having staggered runs for different buildings.
Ms. Nuciforo has been attending meetings at Questar III/BOCES with other area superintendents about services they can cooperatively use.
“Chatham as so far been able to weather the financial storm,” said Ms. Nuciforo. Last year the district managed escape cuts to all but a few programs and added new ones. At the time, Ms. Nuciforo said the district was “right-sizing” after enrollment decreases. The district also is completing a $5 million capital project paid for from federal money and reserve funds. Now she says though the district is not in crisis financially, but school officials are leaving no stone unturned as they take the long view of budgeting.
The next Chatham School Board meeting is Tuesday, October 25 at 6:30 p.m. in the Elementary School Library. The New Lebanon School Board meets Wednesday, November 16 in the Junior High School Library.