Greater Johnstown School District hosts public budget hearing Tuesday

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Greater Johnstown School District vehicle parked at Pleasant Avenue Elementary in Johnstown, Feb. 5.

JOHNSTOWN – Greater Johnstown School District voters have their chance to listen to and address the proposed $41,021,071 2022-2023 school year budget Tuesday evening.

Superintendent Dr. William Crankshaw and Assistant Superintendent Alicia Koster will provide a presentation on the proposal – a 2.63% increase in spending from this year – at the public budget hearing held in the Knox Building auditorium at 6 p.m. Crankshaw said in a statement that the hope is for community members to “be knowledgeable” of the process.

“The District’s Audit, Budget and Finance Committee works closely with the administration all year to cultivate a budget that we believe supports important District goals of overall student success, while also being responsible to our citizens,” the superintendent said in the release. “Tuesday’s budget hearing will inform the public on the final budget in its entirety and give the GJSD Board of Education an opportunity to hear questions and comments about the 2022-2023 spending plan.”

According to an April 15 district release, about two-thirds of budgetary costs will be reimbursed by state school aid. The statement also said the plan includes a 4.84% tax levy increase, which is the district’s maximum levy as determined by the formula used by the state.

The proposal adds three new teaching positions to district schools – one each at Pleasant Avenue Elementary, Warren Street Elementary and the Junior-Senior High School. According to the April release, a special education teacher at Pleasant Avenue will address increased social and emotional learning needs, while an elementary teacher position at Warren Street will address an enrollment increase. The final addition will help continue to grow the science curriculum at the secondary level, according to the district.

Crankshaw said in April that the spending plan will build up the student experience inside and outside the classroom.

“The proposed budget for next year enhances educational programming, athletics, music, arts, and extracurriculars, while being mindful of our community’s finances and staying within the tax levy cap for the second year in a row,” he said in the April statement.

Two other items up for vote when the polls open at the Junior-Senior High school at 11 a.m. May 17 are the purchase of three 66-passenger buses and a van/suburban vehicle, as well as Knox facility improvements.

According to the district, the total cost of the vehicles, which are to replace aging ones with high mileage, will not exceed $451,000. The district already has $344,721 in its Capital Bus Purchase Reserve Fund, however, voters must approve the use of that money. Any added cost above the monies in that reserve fund is included in the proposed budget, the district said, and will be offset by state transportation aid.

Voters must also approve the spending of $2 million in the district’s Construction Capital Reserve Fund that the district said “has been intentionally saved and set aside” for costs mostly focused on updating and repairing the facilities at Knox Field. According to the district’s statement Sunday, those improvements include replacing the turf, resurfacing the track and restoring/replacing sections of the iron fence on the South Perry Street side. The cost of this project is not included in the budget proposal and thus does not affect the tax levy, according to the district.

As for board of education elections, this year begins the district’s initiative to reduce its board from nine members to seven, as was approved by voters in 2021. After the vote, Johnstown schools were required to create a plan of action and have it approved by the state Education Department.

During this election cycle, just two of three vacancies will be filled — reducing the board to eight members next school year. The same will be done next May to reduce the size to seven, before all three are filled in 2024 to maintain the seven-member board going forward, according to the district.

According to Crankshaw, the previous board brought the measure to reduce its size forward because history showed how difficult it was to maintain a full, nine-member body. Board members are volunteers and serve three years at a time. Crankshaw said the challenge of filling seats could be related to several things, including the district’s decreasing size over the years. He said the last several elections have seen write-in candidates the majority of the time.

“The BOE thought it best to decrease the number of required board members to increase the likelihood that a critical number of candidates could be secured for this important and critical work, which often requires a great amount of personal sacrifice and time,” the superintendent said via email Monday.

No nominating candidate petitions were returned by this year’s April 29 deadline, thus the two open seats will be filled by a solely write-in candidates election at the May 17 vote.

 

By Andrew Pugliese

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