JAMESTOWN, NY – The Jamestown School Board got its first look at the tentative 2015-16 budget, which includes the elimination of 16 positions and also a 1.5 percent tax increase.
On Tuesday night Jamestown school superintendent Tim Mains presented the details of the $77.6 million spending plan. The budget contains a 2.42 percent increase in spending compared to the current year’s budget. However, the two biggest line items in the budget – salaries and benefits – both see reductions by about 1.3 and 2.9 percent respectively.
The largest contributing costs to the budget are an increase in BOCES fees, debt service, and contract services.
CUTTING POSITIONS NECESSARY TO CLOSE SPENDING GAP
During his presentation, Mains said he was forced to deliver a budget that calls for a significant reduction in staffing as well as a slight tax increase because the amount of state aid the district will receive is not nearly enough to close a $2.1 million budget gap.
As for the position cuts, the majority will be through attrition by way of early retirements, although there is also the possibility for up to four layoffs. However, Mains said that two of those individuals may be able to stay on by filling two new positions that might have to be created – although the district won’t know for certain until the start of the new school year in September.
Mains said says the other two layoffs could stay in the district by way of long term substations (LTS).
“I have long term sub positions that I’m going to be able to offer them,” Mains explained to reporters following the meeting. “I know that two of them absolutely I’m going to be able to provide something to. But an LTS position isn’t the same [as a permanent position]. It’s a little bit tenuous.”
Prior to the budget presentation, several individuals addressed the school board during the public comment, including Jamestown Teachers Association president Chris Reilly. He requested the board not pursue any layoffs, saying the number of insdtructors in the district has already seen a significant decrease in recent years.
“We as a district can not achieve the level of success we all aspire to with class sizes of 30 students or, for that matter, 25 or even 22,” Reilly said. “When I became the JTA president eight years ago, we had 530 members. Our membership records as of today show that we have 483 members. That’s an 8.9 percent reduction mostly occurring in the past four or five years.”
The union president also reminded the board that the JTA had already done its part, with nearly two dozen members taking an early retirement in order to reduce costs and prevent any possible layoffs.
TAX INCREASE WELL BELOW TAX CAP
As for the 1.5 percent property tax increase, Mains said he feels it’s justifiable considering it’s the first increase in five years.
“We had already gotten some [information] telegraphed during board discussions that it sounded as though folks might be willing to consider something in that neighborhood,” Mains said. “So we listened to the board and put that out there. I do believe it’s extremely reasonable. A 1.5 percent increase could be justified in just one year alone and when you say it’s the first increase in five years, it makes it even more justifiable.”
An increase of 1.5 percent would result in $220,000 in new revenue, which would help to protect four positions from being cut. Under the state’s tax cap guidelines, the district had the option of increasing taxes by as much as 3.25 percent.
BUDGET PROCESS TO CONTINUE APRIL 15
After learning about the budget, some school board members offered their initial thoughts. Board member Tom Pope said he’s not comfortable with any tax increase and he’s also concerned about using $1,000,000 from the district’s fund balance, which would all but deplete the money from the “rainy day” account unless the district was to realize unanticipated savings during the current year.
Board members Paul Abbott and Patrick Slagle also had questions regarding the allocation of more than $300,000 toward professional development,while at the same time the district was looking at cutting 16 positions.
In addition to Reilly’s comments, six others also spoke during the meeting regarding the budget, with several representatives from the Jamestown YWCA requesting the district not cut the TEAM program, which provides services to students who are mothers or who are expecting. Mains noted during his budget presentation that both TEAM – as well as Chautauqua Striders – will not see any cuts in funding.
The board will continue to discuss the budget and consider adjustments during a work session next Wednesday, April 15 – beginning at 5:30 p.m. However, its not expected to act on a final budget until the following week.
The school board has until April 26 to approve a spending plan and put it before the public for a vote.