GJSD budget includes $1.3M in staffing cuts

The public crowded the large cafeteria during the Greater Johnstown School District budget hearing Thursday night at Johnstown High School. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — The Greater Johnstown School District Board of Education on Thursday night approved a revamped, proposed $37.8 million budget for 2019-20 that now carries a 14.6 percent tax levy increase.

The proposed spending plan also calls for $825,000 in additional reductions, use of $2.6 million in fund balance, changes in curriculum, fundraising for athletics and trims some extracurricular programs. Over $1 million in staffing cuts are planned, including 11 layoffs. A public revote is set for June 18.

A public budget hearing was set for 6 p.m. June 11 in the high school Lecture Hall.

The district’s last proposed $38.7 million budget was defeated May 21 with a public vote of 1,150 to 1,147. That budget included a 35 percent tax levy increase, which was above the district’s calculated tax levy cap. That budget also failed because a supermajority vote of 60 percent was required to approve the budget, but only 50 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the budget.

Budget figures approved Thursday night at Johnstown High School will only require over 50 percent this revote. If that fails, the district will be forced into a contingency budget.

The previous budget with a two-year plan attached has now morphed into a three-year plan to stabilize district finances, although Superintendent Patricia Kilburn pointed out that voters will only be voting on next year’s budget. The three-year plans calls for a levy increase of 14.6 percent for 2019-20; and 14 percent for the next two school years — 2020-21 and 2021-22.

“It’s a big lift,” Kilburn said during Thursday’s budget workshop.

For next year’s budget, the district is proposing taking out about half of the secondary electives and fundraising for athletics. By 2020-21, Kilburn said more electives would be cut and there would be reductions in staff. By the third year, the superintendent said high school, kindergarten and all athletics would again be “affordable.”

Kilburn said that since the first budget was voted down, the district needs a combination of fund balance, tax increases and reductions to keep finances solvent. She said the 14.6 percent tax levy increase will generate an extra $1.2 million on top of the existing $8.6 million levy. But she said that still leaves a roughly $3.4 million gap.

“We have to look at eliminating some elective choices over two years,” Kilburn said.

She said the district also has to “look ahead” at expenditures, because during 2020-21, the budget goes up with contracts up and purchase of two buses. She said the district’s Long-Range Planning Committee will make recommendations in August. The district has already calculated that closing an existing school will save $350,000.

Kilburn said the district will be “promoting pathways” curriculum-wise for students to eventually get the education they need for either college or the workplace.

She said over $300,000 will have to be fundraised for sports the next school year. Day games will be promoted, and home games requested. Extracurricular offerings in the district will also take a hit, with some staying such as Student Council, National Honor Society and Odyssey of the Mind.

Assistant Superintendent Ruthie Cook cautioned the three-year plan doesn’t solve all problems.

“It’s not stagnant,” she said. “Expenses aways increase.”

Financial consultant Rick Timbs told the board that all school districts in New York state have certain liabilities, and a pension system tied to the state, that isn’t fully funded by the state.

“The cost of the pension system has exploded,” he said.

Timbs also said the taxing situation in the Johnstown district hasn’t kept up with other area school systems.

“You are significantly lower than neighboring districts,” he said. “Your goal is to provide these children with the most robust program possible, within means.”

Midway through the roughly three-hour budget workshop, outgoing board President Kathy Dougherty made an emotional statement to the public, saying the district “truly appreciates every comment and suggestion” from the public.

“We are at a crossroads with various groups wanting different things from the school district,” Dougherty said.

About two dozen people spoke during the meeting, including Patricia Levin of McKinley Avenue, who suggested the district can lower its transportation costs by having students walk.

“I know we’ve overspent our budget,” Levin said. “What’s wrong with kids getting out walking?”

Regarding the plan, Scott Miller stated: “I think this is what we’re looking for.”

Barbara Skoda of Abel Drive asked the administration to lay out more specifics on costs impacting property owners.

“This is a huge [second] vote,” said Chris Allen of Route 67. “If the vote were to go down, the result would be absolutely catastrophic.”

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

By Patricia Older

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