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We Would All Be Wise To Remember Bad Times Are Coming

“This is by far the worst budget experience I’ve ever experienced. There’s nothing pleasing about this process. We had to furlough a number of people and reduce a number of things and we have a very long list of additions to that reduction list that we may have to exercise, depending on what Albany does.”

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Believe it or not, those words were not spoken by Dr. Bret Apthorpe, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, about the budget approved by the Jamestown Public Schools Board of Education on Tuesday.

They might as well have been, though.

The quote that starts this piece was given more than 10 years ago by Daniel Kathman in the wake of a budget that increased taxes 5% while cutting $2,978,664 in cuts while identifying another $1,700,933 in probably cuts.

The 2020-21 budget unanimously approved by the school board Tuesday is even uglier. Apthorpe and the board found $2.9 million in cuts through a mix of unfilled positions — five administrators, 23 teachers and 12 other positions — as well as seven layoffs. The budget removes Jamestown from the P-Tech program, a special program based in Dunkirk that focuses on science, engineering, technology and math instruction, and closes the Success Academy held in the former Roger Elementary School building. Field trips, conferences and trainings, equipment, supplies and uniforms have all been cut. One school resource officer position has been eliminated.

None of those cuts are easy. All are necessary. In 2009, the decision was made to balance part of the budget gap with a property tax increase. Apthorpe and the school board placed a priority this year not raising school taxes, which keeps taxpaying residents and businesses from taking yet another financial hit in a year that has been filled with them.

What’s in the budget is just as noteworthy on what has been cut. The district is spending time and money on distance learning training and equipment, will have to spend additional money on the tasks and items needed to reopen schools in the fall and on modernizing its equipment. The district is also setting aside $1.5 million of its fund balance to protect programs in case the state makes a December state aid cut.

The Jamestown Public Schools District has taken the necessary steps to keep the district on solid financial footing while providing the best educational program it can in challenging times.

But Kathman’s quote from 2010 rings true today with the realization that all of our area school districts — and indeed our governor and state legislators — should realize by now that we seem to be prone to decennial financial problems that force a reset of public services. The 1970s and 1980s brought economic issues that forced belt-tightening. In 2001 it was the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the decimation of Wall Street revenue. In 2010 it was the subprime mortgage crisis and a recession. Ten years from now, we will likely be revisiting the thoughts Kathman and Apthorpe express to talk about another difficult school budget. We would all be wise to remember that bad times are coming and to budget appropriately.

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