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JPS Discusses Budget Amid Uncertainty

Although not in person, members of the Jamestown Public Schools Board of Education met via video conference to discuss the upcoming 2020-2021 school budget amid uncertain times.

“With the budget goals, we’re going to continue to focus on student achievement, support district initiatives, meaning stronger student programs that align with college and workforce requirements and the (Summer LEAP) program,” said Lisa Almasi, JPS chief financial officer.

JPS officials discussed Tuesday the path forward of proposing a balanced budget for the 2020-21 school year that does not include a property tax increase. As of now, based on an estimated 2% increase in state aid, the planned budget totals $91,164,983, a $482,305 increase, or .53%, from the 2019-20 approved budget.

Despite schools currently being closed, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing his intention to continue school stoppages every two weeks, JPS board members moved forward with its budget process. Before school closures, the initial state executive budget proposal was highly criticized for certain budgetary changes in how foundation aid and reimbursable aid were being listed and reported. Now during a time when schools, government, businesses and daily life is being strained by concerns of spreading the novel coronavirus, schools are being told to expect fiscal limitations as it pertains to the state’s budget.

“Putting a framework around our budget process, this year we asked everybody to develop a budget that would dignify teaching and learning and the physical plant needs of our district,” said Dr. Bret Apthorpe, JPS superintendent. “In doing so, particularly to align with the goals that the board had, we had a $11.5 million budget gap that we had to close, and I want to say that occurred through some very good meetings with our finance and budget committee who did a lot of work.”

Apthorpe often has criticized the initial state aid runs and said Jamestown was set to receive less than a 1% increase in new funding from the previous year.

Highlights of ongoing budget discussions include a 0% property tax increase; using Retirement Contribution, Employee Benefits, and Workers Compensation reserves along with the appropriated fund balance to balance the budget; and continuing the use of a Capital Outlay Project worth $100,000 that are supplemented by the state by 98%. The 2020-21 budget plan includes a planned project to create a secure entrance at Persell Middle School. The district is undergoing the creation of a secure entrance at Fletcher Elementary School through the use of of the Capital Outlay Project.

“How we balanced this budget was essentially making reductions in every single budget line with a special focus on not hurting student achievement and particular district initiatives that are showing very good early results,” Apthorpe said.

Apthorpe specifically referenced the summer JPS LEAP program, the JPS Success Academy and ongoing efforts to modernize curriculum.

Additionally, the board discussed lease-purchasing of district vehicles at a maximum estimated cost of $1,252,000 that is payable over a period of five years.

The board also discussed the potential for receiving less than 2% in state aid which would result in more reductions to the budget. Additionally, the board discussed the implications of a contingency budget if the upcoming proposal is denied by voters twice, which would result in more cuts.

When the state’s budget is officially enacted, which is typically approved by the governor in April, Jamestown officials will likely then know which proposal they can move forward with. Board members and district administrators were optimistic the school district would at least receive a 2% increase.

While the budget wasn’t approved at Tuesday’s virtual meeting, the board did approve the legal notice of the budget vote which included three propositions. The first two propositions include the future budget and the vehicle purchases. The third proposition regarding the James Prendergast Library tax that is separate from the school budget.

The library proposition reads as follows, “shall the sum of $350,000 be raised by annual levy of a tax upon the taxable real property within the Jamestown City School District for the purpose of funding the James Prendergast Library Association.”

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