Greater Johnstown School District $36M budget carries 5% tax levy hike

Greater Johnstown School District Superintendent Patricia Kilburn, left, reviews the district’s proposed 2018-19 budget at the Board of Education meeting Thursday night at Johnstown High School. Looking on is Assistant Superintendent Ruthie Cook. (The Leader-Herald/Michae Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — The Greater Johnstown School District Board of Education on Thursday night approved sending a $35.8 million 2018-19 district budget to the voters that carries a 5 percent property tax levy hike and eliminates 13 positions.

A public hearing on the proposed spending plan will be conducted at 6 p.m. May 8 at the Johnstown High School Lecture Hall. District voters — who must adopt the budget with a 60 percent “supermajority” approval vote — will go to the polls from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 15 at JHS.

Superintendent Patricia Kilburn said she will also give a budget talk at 1:15 p.m. May 3 at the Johnstown Senior Citizens Center.

Kilburn detailed what she called a “flat” budget going before the voters, noting the district this time had to deal with a “negative tax cut.” The district has faced a $3.7 million budget gap. She said the district’s aid came in for its $39.6 million capital project before the district was able to pay for some of the project, resulting in the state saying the district coffers are flush. The district had to exceed its negative 2.5 percent state-imposed levy tax cap to balance the budget.

“We also looked at our current state of affairs,” Kilburn said.

She said the district’s enrollment has been declining since the early 2000s.

The proposed budget totals $35.75 million — a 5.46 percent increase from the 2017-18 adopted budget. The proposed tax levy for the next school year represents a 4.9 percent increase from the current district budget. For a home in the city with an assessed value of $100,000 the proposed tax levy would add $71.50 to the property owner’s tax bill.

Program reductions will include: alternate day Spanish 7, kindergarten art, boys and girls tennis, freshman boys basketball and modified “B” volleyball.

The district is proposing a reduction of 13 positions, which include faculty, clerical and support staff. District officials said it is to: “reflect class sizes in the mid-20s, and consolidate job duties.”

On the operational side, pre-K transportation will be eliminated. Also eliminated will be non-essential equipment purchases and district-based field trip transportation, as well as 30 percent of supply purchases.

“We’re in a stagnant place with state aid,” Kilburn said.

She said the district has been “ultra conservative” with raising taxes, but the funding situation has changed and moderation is needed. She said the “biggest piece of our pie is employing all of us,” and that the district has to look more at shared services.

“We need to start increasing our levy,” Kilburn said. “We have to stop relying on our savings and our fund balance.”

Board President Kathy Dougherty read a statement indicating the board takes its fiduciary responsibilities pertaining to the budget “very seriously.”

“We believe what we are presenting is a carefully crafted budget …,” the statement read.

Dougherty said “no one up here is feeling good” about the proposed budget. She said the district is committed to a further review of its staffing needs.

“We encourage your questions and suggestions,” the board official said.

In a handout to the public, the district says that while it decreases costs, the district will probably require a “moderate tax levy increase” across the next five years. The handout says the district is in the situation it is because it has seen “slow growth” in revenue — zero to 3 percent increases, including state foundation aid. The district also says its operational and employment expenses are “growing faster than our income.

Board member Evamarie Mraz said the Johnstown district has always been a “string” district.

“We’re just asking the community to stay strong in this,” she said.

Board member Kathryn Zajicek, who has been on the board six years, said now is the time for public support.

“This is probably the most difficult issue we have dealt with,” she said. “I think everybody here has done everything they could.”

Public speaker Marge Ugalde of Route 67 told the board it was “not an easy task” handling the budget. But she urged the board to look at what it charges vendors, reducing administration costs, getting overtime under control, and cutting certain salaries instead of sports.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Patricia Older

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