District to keep budget within cap

JOHNSTOWN – City school leaders said the next school budget will stay within the state-imposed tax cap, using reserves if state funding is insufficient.

At the district’s first budget workshop of the season Thursday, Board of Education Paul VanDenburgh told district Business Manager Alice Sise she could tell the state the district will not exceed its cap, which is set at 1.62 percent.

The increase represents about a $127,000 increase in a tax levy that would now total $8 million.

The statewide cap is 0.12 percent, based on the rate of inflation, but that doesn’t include variables such as payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements, capital expenses and some retirement expenses.

The state Education Department requires tax-cap information to be filed by March 1, including a declaration whether the tax cap will be exceeded. A district whose budget raises the tax levy beyond the cap must be approved by 60 percent of voters.

Schools won’t know how much aid they will receive from the state until the state budget is passed. The budget last year was passed by the state lawmakers on April 1.

The district received $14.2 million in basic aid for this school year and would receive about $14.4 million next year under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget.

“We have some reserves that likely will be used if the state doesn’t come through with financial aid,” VanDenburgh said.

“As we work through the budget process, every school district is in the same boat, with an eye and ear toward Albany,” Superintendent Robert DeLilli said. “And there’s nothing to share yet.”

DeLilli challenged board members to consider what’s important to them for the 2015-16 budget, as well as what they might de-emphasize if necessary.

“I don’t see anything in our school district that is like a fifth foreign language or an equestrian barn or something just out of whack,” he said. “We are trying to stay competitive in our region and prepare kids for life after high school and ensure we can continue to offer quality programs.”

VanDenburgh said it would be a shame if the district had to cut staff from recent expansions to satisfy a budget. DeLilli said he doesn’t want the next budget to move the district backward in any of its recent initiatives.

“Early literacy has been a focal point. We have been adding mental health support. We are looking at getting extracurriculars as broad as we can. We’ve been adding extra things in terms of athletics and clubs,” he said. “We are trying to get that well-rounded approach and that’s the trajectory we are heading.”

About 10 percent of the district’s $33.3 million budget for this school year went to academic costs for the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

Board member Kathy Dougherty asked whether BOCES’ budget would be held to a similarly small increase.

“If we’re being held to that level of increase, so should BOCES,” she said.

DeLilli said he hasn’t heard about BOCES projections but said its Board of Education likely shares that goal.

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