JAMESTOWN – While it appears Jamestown Public Schools won’t be getting nearly as much money as officials would like from Albany to help with next year’s budget, they’ve still been able to put together an initial, balanced 2019-20 Budget that will include no tax increase for local property owners.
On Tuesday night the school board held a budget work session to review preliminary budget numbers for the 2019-20 school year. One challenge for Jamestown, along with others across the state, is that lawmakers in Albany have yet to finalize a state budget for the upcoming 2019-20 fiscal year, which means the district still doesn’t know exactly how much aid it will be getting.
Jamestown School Superintendent Bret Apthorpe said the district’s ideal spending plan for next year would total just over $92.9 million. However, based on the school aid numbers offered in January via the Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s initial state budget proposal, the district would actually receive a net reduction in state aid of $2 million when the rate of inflation is considered. With that in mind, school officials ended up removing nearly $3.3 million from the initial plan, bringing it down to $89.7 million.
“The initial proposed budget was literally just that – it was what had everybody requested. We collected that and then shared it with our budget committee without having any scrutiny or seeing where there might be opportunities for combining services,” Apthorpe said. “The district has had a number of years before me of tough budgets and a lot of layoffs. So people put in requests, like diversity consultants to help our schools become more culturally response, and we just weren’t able to do all that.”
In addition to removing some additions for the new school year, the school budget team also worked to close the spending gap by utilizing some funding from the district’s employee retirement reserve fund. In addition, the district will also cut 10.5 Full time Equivalency (FTE) positions, although only two would involve layoffs.
“I think we have about six positions already this year that we haven’t filled, that are already in the present year’s budget. So we’re not going to fill them. We also had several that were through attrition, like retirements. So when you have retirements you can look at certain class sizes and things to see if that’s an area that needs to be replaced and we’re not replacing those in this proposed budget,” Apthorpe said. “So in terms of physical bodies, we had two FTEs and these FTEs that we’re discussing are the positions that are furthest away from students.”
The budget also looks at past history with the state budget to make an assumption that the initial state aid for Jamestown proposed by the governor – which is $49.8 million – will likely be increased by at least 2.5 percent, or $1.25 million. As a result, that’s what the district is going with in its initial budget. But if more money comes in, the district would put it toward reserve fund to help with future equipment purchases.
“We have not had an equipment replacement plan to deal with lawn mowers, trucks, floor scrubbing machines. And so we created an equipment replacement plan,” Apthorpe said. “If we have extra funds come in, the conversation with the board will be do we bring back those two FTEs or do we use some of it to start this equipment replacement plan or do we do a combination of both? And really it’s going to depend on what that final number is.”
Apthorpe has also noted that while the district also plans to launch its Success Academy program at the former Rogers School in the fall, it won’t have any additional costs to the budget because it will involve a shifting of current staff, rather than hiring any new positions.
In its first year, the academy plans to work with about 75 students in grades 5 through 12 who are in need of more focused attention in areas of education. Those students will be identified by the district and will have the option of enrolling in the academy.
With the shifting of teaching staff that will be taking place next year, the budget also calls for “right sizing” average class sizes in various grades, with nearly all of them seeing an increase compared to the current year. The increase range from zero to three students, with grades 5-6 seeing no increase but still containing the largest average class size at 22 students. The High School would see an average class size increase by three students, bringing the new average to 21.
Meanwhile, the school board will now wait for a final state budget to be approved to know exactly how much aid it will receive. The state budget is due by this coming Monday, April 1. Once that takes place, the board will meet again on April 16 to finalize a spending plan for next year – with a public vote on the budget scheduled for May 21.