Anxiety high over GJSD budget defeat

Students say they will be ones to pay for defeat of GJSD budget

Emily MIles who graduated from Johnstown High School in 2018 speaks out during the Board of Education's meeting Wednesday. Several voters and students spoke at the meeting following the defeat of the district's budget. (The Leader-Herald/Briana O'Hara)

JOHNSTOWN — Several students, yes voters, no voters, parents, taxpayers and other community members packed in the Johnstown High School’s auditorium on Wednesday to voice their concerns and get answers as to what’s to come next following the district’s failed budget.

The Greater Johnstown School District’s proposed $38.7 million budget was defeated on Tuesday with a vote of 1,150 to 1,147. Therefore, the district did not meet the required supermajority vote of 60 percent. The 35 percent tax levy increase which was above the district’s calculated tax levy cap was needed to help fill in the gap of the district’s $4 million deficit.

The district will now have to find $1.6 million in reductions that will include non-mandated items such as secondary electives, extra curricular, athletics and staff reductions.

Many who spoke on Wednesday were concerned of the future of students in the school district and what will happen if they don’t have any of the programs that could possibly be cut.

“The Johnstown Teacher’s Association would like to deeply thank the 1,150 voting residents who voted yes last evening on a proposed Greater Johnstown School District budget. You understood what was needed for our school district to continue to effectively serve the students, the children in this community,” said Nancy Lisicki. “You recognize the financial sacrifice as an investment in their future, an investment in your community. We will be forever grateful that you answered when this district called upon you.”

The Johnstown High School auditorium was filled with concerned students and voters at the district's Board of Education meeting on Wednesday. (The Leader-Herald/Briana O'Hara)

“Today, when the 1,147 no voters return to their regular routine without disruption, without incident, 1,645 Johnstown children went to school, their lives forever changed, their future uncertain,” Lisicki continued. “Primary school children innocently announced that they would be moving next year because the people said no. High school teachers acted as grief counselors as students anxiously mourn the experiences and educational opportunities that are now lost for them.”

Emily Miles, a graduate of Johnstown High School, said all of the electives she took while attending the school allowed her to enter her first year of college as a sophomore. She was a part of varsity athletics on the swim team.

“The bonds that I formed with those people have just honestly made me who I am today,” Miles said. “I have been a part of multiple clubs including National Honor Society, Student Council, International Club, Student Advisor Committee, Key Club, the list goes on. I got to know so many people and without this a lot of people won’t have those good friendships and they won’t be able to express themselves as much. I think that we should really think about this budget cut.”

Emily Wheelis, who is a senior in Johnstown High School, advocated for all of the opportunities that future students may not get due to the budget failing.

“I want you all to know I did not learn leadership skills and I did not learn emotional skills and I did not learn management skills in a math class,” she said. “If we don’t teach kids about art, music and history they’re not going to be well-rounded individuals in the future. We need to focus on giving opportunities to children and some of these opportunities come from sports. That does provide outlets for these children and we need to focus on still providing them anyway we can even if we only fund through fundraisers or cut certain programs. We need to keep these, so children can be people instead of robots who only know how to add two plus two.”

Johnstown resident Harry Brand remained hopeful for the students and the school district. He said he keeps hearing about all the possible cuts, but that doesn’t mean everything is done.

“The last time I checked, it’s not done,” Brand said. “There’s another vote. No one says it’s not going to pass this next time. I understand what it says in the handout ‘if we fail a second time’ but we haven’t failed a second time and odds are we know if it will pass a second time. So why are we telling our kids it’s done. Why put them through that stress?”

Superintendent Patricia Kilburn said there will be budget workshops scheduled so the board of education can decide what reductions will be made and what the revised budget will be.

On Tuesday Kilburn said the anticipated revised budget would include a 14 percent tax levy increase and reductions to non-mandated programs.

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