Budget Plan Outlined By Jamestown Schools

While budget season often brings stress along with it, this year, Jamestown Public Schools District is facing much less.

In the 2017-18 budget proposal presentation, Vernon Connors, district finance and business affairs director, highlighted that the district should have no staff reductions or tax levy increase. Among the highlights was a use of fund balance only for use toward the Crescent Street Warehouse. The warehouse is a property owned by the school district which has been deemed an “excess” that is no longer useful to the district.

The district is currently exploring options regarding the disposition of the property.

The year-to-year increase is projected to be $4.7 million, however $2.9 million is from the capital project authorization, the three year BOCES capital project cost and the Crescent Street Warehouse.

A bus proposition is also on the table for the 2017-18 school year, with a 2017-18 bus lease at $780,000. The lease would be for five 66-passenger buses and one 57-passenger wheelchair bus which would not impact the budget until 2018-19.

Connors said there is a possibility that more Community Schools funding could be available through a competitive grant, however, not much is known about the grant at this time.

Sylvia Root, interim superintendent, said she is impressed with the lack of an increase in taxes. Root said that portion of the proposal is highly beneficial to the taxpayers.

“I know the board takes it very seriously that the tax rate is low (and) that it isn’t increased,” she said. “I think that they have kept that promise for a long time, and we appreciate that we can come through with our building aid and our foundation aid.”

Foundation aid is a funding formula that is used to more equitably distribute state education aid.

Root said one thing that she wants to look into closely is how over two years, the district lost 120 teachers or staff members. She said she also wants to look at class size and what could be done to help in that situation.

On the topic of a string of two snow days in a row, she said while Wednesday was certainly a snow day, the day before was more about not knowing where the snow would strike.

“I don’t think Gov. Cuomo knew exactly where it was going to come,” Root said. “We all know with Western New York, if you bring snow like that and we get lake effect also coming from the other side, we could have a real problem. Last night, it got a little nasty, but it was after kids would’ve been home. Those are hard calls, but I believe that Gov. Cuomo did a good thing making sure people were safe.”

She said when it comes to a state of emergency being declared, it doesn’t mean schools have to close, but it does put more liability on the school if something happens and the school didn’t close.

“The issue there is that they told us that it was an emergency, and we still made the decision to have school,” Root said. “It’s a liability that you take on, and I wasn’t willing to do that, and I don’t think the other districts were either.”

She said there weren’t any complaints regarding closing the schools, which is good.

Paul Abbott, board president, said compared to other years, the budget is encouraging so far for 2017-18.

“I’m hoping that the picture that we’ve gotten from the state doesn’t get skewed between now and when they do finally put out the budget,” Abbott said. “Of course, we are largely at the mercy of the state numbers as we try to prognosticate how we’re going to march out our own budget.”

He said if the figures stay as they have been presented, or if there is more assistance in some areas, there could be a better year for the budget.

“We’re not looking at any staff cuts, which is something we unfortunately have had to experience a lot in the past few years,” Abbot said. “This is coupled with another year of no tax increase, which we have understood that the taxpayers of Jamestown and the Jamestown School District are already pushed nearly to their limit. We have tried to be very conservative in our budgets, and we continue to follow that path.”