Residents question Johnstown school board

Greater Johnstown School District Superintendent Patricia Kilburn discusses the district's revised budget at a public hearing Tuesday night at Johnstown High School. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — The Greater Johnstown School District on Tuesday reviewed the district’s revised $35.7 million budget that will go before district voters next week.

The Board of Education conducted a public forum to impart the latest details to the public at Johnstown High School. About 20 people were in attendance.

District residents are involved in a revote on the spending plan from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. June 19 at the JHS lobby. District Superintendent Patricia Kilburn said a 60 percent supermajority is needed to pass the revised budget, and the district goes to a contingency budget if it doesn’t pass.

Voters in the city district on May 15 did not approve the proposed $35.8 million 2018-19 budget. With a total of 900 voters, 461 voted in favor of the proposed budget and 439 opposed. The district needed a 60 percent super majority to pass the vote, but only had 51 percent.

The proposed contingency budget would eliminate all modified sports, eliminate bowling and cheerleading, eliminate swim instruction, close the pool for one year and band and choir would start in sixth grade.

John Sagan of Johnstown talks about the Greater Johnstown School District's revised budget at a public hearing Tuesday night at Johnstown High School. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

At this point, the revised proposed 2018-19 district budget carries a proposed 3.7 percent tax levy increase, or $306,995 more on the levy.

“We now have to impact our programs,” said Kilburn.

The superintendent noted the revised budget shows a 5.2 percent increase in appropriations from the current $33.9 million district budget.

Kilburn said that since the process started, the district has already made about $1.1 million in cuts to staff, programs and existing expenses. She said 15 positions have been cut, nine of which are instructional. Some modified sports were consolidated, and kindergarten art instruction was eliminated.

“We also did a 30 percent reduction in supply spending,” Kilburn said.

Kilburn said the district is grappling with a $2.2 million gap between revenues and expenses. She said the district has had to tap $300,200 in reserves and $1.86 million in fund balance. She said the state is recognizing the district as having more money than actually available because it is doing a $39.6 million capital project, which resulted in a negative 2.5 percent tax cap. She said the Johnstown district was one of 20 districts put in that position because of its capital project.

During the question and answer, former board member Scott Miller asked why non-instructional salaries were increased and other positions decreased.

Kilburn said there several reasons, including some leaving the district and others being paid more for contractual reasons.

“We have not increased our non-instructional staff,” Kilburn said.

Larry Poitras said he’s noticed that salaries are down, but benefits are way up, some as much as 70 percent.

“Some hard decisions have to be made because it’s on the backs of the taxpayers,’ he said.

Kilburn said that sometimes costs are higher than what was originally budgeted for, with the district having to “adjust” along the way. She said health insurance costs are starting to outpace expenses.

Dick Baker told the board that he didn’t think the May 15 outcome was the result of people being “against education.” He pointed to past problems like design changes in a bus zone for Pleasant Avenue Elementary School and a $450,000 concession stand at Knox Field.

“I wonder if people have lost a little confidence in the school district?” he asked.

Kilburn responded, “The things you mention are certainly things that we have been concerned about as well.”

Leslie Buggeln-Bosworth asked the district: “Why didn’t anybody see this coming?”

John Sagan acknowledged district officials are struggling to cover increases in expenses. He also noted a major $1.7 million increase in health insurance that now totals $6.68 million for the district. He said that represents one-fifth of the district budget and represents 61 percent of the increase in the total budget for next year.

“This level of benefit is not affordable and sustainable,” Sagan said.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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