JAMESTOWN – Jamestown school officials began the 2018-19 budget process Tuesday night during the school board’s monthly meeting.
Jamestown Finance Director Vern Connors walked the school board through some of the known factors of next year’s budget, as well as providing details on where the current year’s budget is projected to finish.
Connors said that under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget, Jamestown is projected to see a 3.2 percent increase in state aid for next year, although much of that aid can only be used for construction and other capitol improvements. The actual amount in foundation aid is just under 2 percent. The total amount in state aid the school would receive under the governor’s plan is $67.5 million dollars.
He also said that the district is once again committed to not raising school taxes, meaning the tax levy would remain at $14.6 million. As a result, overall revenue for next school year is expected to be $84.87 million – an increase of just 1.2 percent from the current year’s revenue.
If the board were to decide to implement a tax hike, it could go as high as 2 percent before the state tax cap law would take effect, meaning any increase over that percentage would have be approved by a super-majority (60 percent) of district voters in May.
As for the current year’s budget, Connors said both the overall revenue and expenditure lines are lower than originally projected, with revenues projected to come in $2.4 million over expenditures, which would give the district some carry-over money for next year, if the projections stay on track.
Connors also covered several changes in state funding law being proposed by the governor, which includes a new “aid cap” of 2 percent for all state aid going toward building, transportation, and BOCES programing.
Another proposal is the controversial School-Level Funding plan, which would impact public schools that receive a total annual amount of state aid which exceeds 50 percent of their revenue. Jamestown would be one of those schools. Under the proposal, each district would be required to report how that money is being distributed among their various schools to ensure equitable distribution of state aid.
While the governor and his administration are pursuing those changes, School superintendent Bret Apthorpe said that it’s unlikely they will gain enough traction in both the state Assembly and state Senate to be put in place.
Following the presentation, school board president Paul Abbott said that the presentation was a good start to the budget process but there are still some unknowns at this point.
“The challenge at this point is not being quite sure what the state budget is going to do to us. We are limited to some extent on our planning because we can’t put things in there that may or may not get through. We have to wait and see how the budget gets through to the legislature,” Abbott said.
Despite the unknowns, Abbot said there are some opportunities the board will pursue.
“We have experienced in the past a number of difficult years. I think the direction we are going is to certainly try to restore some of the things we have lost – programs or positions – but also to set up the infrastructure in the district in a manner so we can shield ourselves to unexpected expenses, so that any improvements we make and any programs we implement would be sustainable and we would be able to weather the ebbs and flows of the state budget,” Abbott said.
Abbot also said the board is once again committed to working to ensure there is no property tax increase for district property owners.
The board will continue to review the budget during its next meeting. It has until the second half of April to finalize a spending plan and present it to district residents for a public vote. The public hearing on the final budget will take place on May 8 and the public vote on the budget is May 15.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, Apthorpe gave details on a student walk-out that had been planned for Wednesday at the high school. The walk out was intended to honor the victims of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting from a month ago, as well as raise awareness about the need for legislation intended to improve safety for students.
However, due to Wednesday’s inclement weather, school was canceled and the walkout did not take place. It’s not know if the students and school staff will instead coordinate the walkout at a future date.