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‘Pandemic Budget’ Includes Layoffs, Cuts At JPS

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an additional $2.9 million budget hole for the Jamestown Public Schools District.

That hole will not be filled with a local property tax increase, but rather it will be filled with a myriad of program cuts, job eliminations and a hiatus on field trips.

The Jamestown Public Schools Board on Tuesday approved its $88,313,671 2020-21 budget. The spending plan, which will go to district residents for a June 9 vote via absentee ballot, is drastically different than the one previewed by the board in March.

That one assumed an inflationary increase in state aid, no program cuts and no elimination of positions.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the state to plan deep cuts in aid (as much as 20%) to schools. Dr. Bret Apthorpe, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, said of the roughly $90 million budget, $70 million is dependent on state aid. A 20% reduction will mean about $14 million less in state aid for the 2020-21 school year, he said.

“It’s certainly a pandemic budget,” Apthorpe told The Post-Journal. “It’s a really unique time, and I don’t know a time in recent memory we had to develop a budget based on speculation. … What we did was adopt a budget that we think is responsible.”

The reduction in state aid meant the school board had to pass a budget that, while not increasing taxes, will result in the elimination of programs such as P-Tech and the Success Academy, a 5-12 school that provides a range of resources for students who are falling behind in school due to previous traumatic events.

Apthorpe said he hopes the closure of the Success Academy, housed at the former Rogers Elementary School, will only be temporary. He noted that programs could be brought back at some point mid-year or during the 2021-22 school year, depending on the adjustment of aid expected throughout the year.

“The real tragedy is the temporary closing of the Success Academy,” Apthorpe said. “That’s the real tragedy. It has far exceeded our expectations that really marked a turnaround for the district. This closing, for me, hurts. These disenfranchised children are getting burnt by the political process.”

Apthorpe said teachers within the Success Academy will be reassigned elsewhere in the district while a plan will be developed to keep students engaged in a traditional school setting.

The district had been looking to fill a number of positions — five administrators, 23 teachers and 12 additional staff — that will not take place next school year. Further, seven positions, which Apthorpe said is a mix of teachers and other support staff, will be laid off.

“We needed to minimize the impact,” Apthorpe said of aid reduction on the budget while keeping the line on taxes. “The board will revisit the budget throughout the year.”

As for the elimination of field trips, Apthorpe said students will miss out on visits to the Robert H. Jackson Center and Chautauqua Institution — both of which offer full educational opportunities unique to Chautauqua County.

“These trips are important to our kids, many who would never have the chance to go,” he said.

The superintendent said the budget process was especially difficult with retirement in the near future. “It’s a very painful budget for me personally,” he said.

The coronavirus has forced schools to turn to absentee ballots for June 9 budget votes and school board elections. Registered voters in the JPS district will receive an absentee ballot in the mail with two propositions:

¯ the 2020-21 proposed budget not to exceed $88,313,671;

¯ the Prendergast Library Association asking the public to approve a tax levy of $350,000 for the purpose of funding the library.

There are three seats up for election to the Jamestown Public Schools Board, each for a three-year term beginning in July 2020. There are three candidates on the ballot: Paul Abbott, Shelly Leathers and Christine Schnars.

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