Educate Yourself Before Clymer Vote

Our opportunity as school district residents, to vote on the Clymer school district budget, Tuesday, June, 18, is now only days away. I want to share with you some details I find interesting, hoping to further inform you, as you prepare to fulfill your obligation of casting an informed vote.

To best educate our children, our first duty is to elect members to the board of education. Residents within the district community, we feel confident, have as their top priority how to best educate our children. And I believe we’ve done that. We then need to stay connected to these members, especially as the budget process begins, to first share our thoughts, ideas and concerns, then offer support in their efforts to provide the quality education we expect for our students.

Our school district budget process differs greatly from those in neighboring Pennsylvania for example, where the school district business manager presents a preliminary budget to the board of education for review and approval. Upon approval of the preliminary budget by the board of education, it is then posted and a 20 day comment period follows. It is then the sole responsibility of the board of education to approve the budget We on the other hand, are very fortunate to have a community involved decision in that entire process. It is our obligation as district residents, to take part in the discussion, presentation and final outcome, to vote on our school district budget. Not as of yet, having to accept an entire plan to educate our children from lawmakers in faraway Albany. I hope you pause for a moment to think about that.

As the budget vote approaches, let’s discuss an issue that seems most concerning to district residents.The 8.8% tax levy increase, and concerns over how we got here. Let’s begin by going back a number of years to a budget process, and subsequent issue, that had an enormous effect on this proposed tax levy increase.

In school years 2016-17 and 2017-18, the budget process concluded with 0% tax levy increases. This resulted in part from lower than expected expenses, including teacher retirements and the hiring of new teachers at much lower salaries, funding received from New York State, and a very healthy fund balance. A reserve fund held by the school to deal with unexpected needs and to help balance the budget year to year, stabilizing the impact on tax payers.This created an opportunity, allowing taxpayers to keep a bit more of their hard earned money. Then, during an audit conducted by the state of New York, the discovery of overpayments to the Clymer school district for years 2008-2014, amounting to nearly $520,000.00. The state of New York, upon informing the district of their mistake, and refusing to accept repayment of the monies over a number of years, withheld the entire amount, again nearly $520,000 from the General Aid payments. That error, on the part of New York state, has had a significant impact on our current fund balance and on recent budget negotiations.

In part, as a result of that deduction in General Aid payment, taxpayers are now being asked to approve an 8.8% tax levy increase in the current budget. A number the board of education unanimously agrees is needed to continue the quality education our children deserve. In contrast is a contingent budget. A budget that will cut courses and staff not mandated by New York State. These are programs we as a community, including support from the board of education, provide to our students because we feel they are also an important part of the well rounded education we want our students to receive. Programs in part such as sports; where participants are enriched with a team spirit, the agriculture program; which not only includes FFA, but also environmental conservation, mechanics, animal science and leadership instruction, and the business program; including business math, financial management, accounting and the Future Business Leaders of America program. And these are but a few of the many programs and related staff to be cut under a contingent budget. Important programs? We will decide in just a few days.

In closing I ask you please do some diligent research so to be well informed when you cast your vote. And yes, there are other school related concerns that need discussed. But that’s a topic for discussion after the budget is resolved. Until then, I ask you, take a look at your kids, what do you see? And what are your hopes and expectations for them? What are their hopes and dreams? And if you don’t have kids, talk to someone that does, neighbors, friends, relatives, board members. Because it is really, about the kids. The well being of the kids, and the quality of a well-rounded education we must provide them. There will be both consequences and unintended consequences to either outcome. Be sure to consider both before casting your vote.

Lastly, as related to the cost of that education, I ask you to consider this; the actual approved tax levy increases over the past eight years, including the 8.8% increase proposed this year, total 22%. Had district residents been presented, and then approved a 2.75% tax levy increase each year over the past eight years, we would have approved a cumulative total tax levy increase, matching that same number, 22%. Acceptable? I think it is. But that’s up to all of us to decide. So get involved, become informed, and be sure to vote.

Jon Babcock is a Clymer resident.

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