Johnstown school budget defeated

GJSD fails to get supermajority

Shown is Milton Dorn voting for the Greater Johnstown School District proposed budget. The budget did not pass with a vote of 1,150 to 1,147. (The Leader-Herald/Briana O'Hara)

JOHNSTOWN — The Greater Johnstown School District’s proposed $38.7 million budget for the 2019-20 school year was defeated with a vote of 1,150 to 1,147.

The proposed budget included a 35 percent tax levy increase, which is above the district’s calculated tax levy cap, and an 8.5 percent spending increase from the 2018-19 school year.

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.

“The district did achieve the majority, but we were unable to meet the mandates of the tax cap which required the supermajority,” said Superintendent Patricia Kilburn. “So, we’re very sorry, of course, to hear that we were not able to meet proposed budget terms with the community or the mandates with the tax cap.”

However, Kilburn said they had a record number of voters which shows that the community is involved in the educational process which she said is what the district needs.

“We have to continue to move forward to try to do the best we can for Johnstown students on the resources we have,” Kilburn said.

The board of education will meet today at 6:30 p.m. at the Johnstown High School media center to discuss the next step, which will be to adopt a revised budget that will include a smaller tax levy increase and reduces non-mandated programs for students.

Kilburn anticipates the tax levy increase will be at 14 percent, which is the district’s tax levy cap. A budget revote will be held on June 18.

“The district cannot put itself in a position where it could risk losing that amount of the levy, so the proposed revote at this time is anticipated to be the 14 percent tax cap, that means we’ll have to find $1.6 million in reductions,” Kilburn said.

She said the district could be looking to reduce secondary electives, extra curriculars, athletics and more staff reductions.

Kilburn said to keep kindergarten in the 2020-21 budget, the district would have to use money in its reserves, assuming the revote budget passes.

The district estimates a minimum 18 percent tax levy increase would be required to continue funding kindergarten and the core high school.

“The 14 percent gets us to almost affording high school completely, but it still keeps kindergarten out and kindergarten was about $500,000,” Kilburn said. “If we were able to gain it back, we would be using our reserves to pick up the pieces of kindergarten and what’s remaining left of high school.”

If the district successfully passes the revote budget, they would gain $1.2 million on tax levy. The district will still face a $3.5 million ies.

“So we will be using about $2 million of reserves to continue to contain what remains of the high school — that we don’t have enough money for — the cost of kindergarten, the cost of the elementary reading and math,” Kilburn said.

If the revote budget does not pass, the district will have to go to a contingency budget which means they would have to use about $2.6 million of the reserves to keep the high school and kindergarten.

“Between fund balance and reserves there’s a total of $7 million and that is why if we don’t change our course, we have two years left of money,” Kilburn said. “If we use $4 million this year and $4 million next year, we’d be out of money. Clearly we can’t do that which is why we also have to look at those reductions.”

Also in those reductions, the district is looking at closing another school. Kilburn said closing another school within the district is on the table.

“One of the things we’ve done is start a public committee which is a requirement of our process and they are looking at the potential of closing one of our schools,” Kilburn said. “Closing a school in itself is not going to create magnificent savings. Savings would be realized by less staff, again future reductions that could be made like for an example if you close a building you don’t need necessarily a principal for a building that is closed. That would be something that would go into effect not this next budget, but the year after that budget because we follow the required procedures for that, so that is something the district is already looking at.”

Kilburn said it’s important to remember the district always tries to focus on the priorities of the children and their academics.

“We are not alone in New York state schools who have found themselves in positions where they are unable to offer things like athletics and extra curriculars and have to turn to fund raising,” Kilburn said. “I certainly hope that’s not part of Johnstown’s legacy or longterm plan.”

Also on the ballot was the vote to elect three board of education members. Joseph LoDoestro had 1,381 votes; Christopher Tallon had 1,352 votes; Patrick Oare had 1,333 votes and incumbent Jennifer Sponnoble had 1,164 votes. Tallon, Oare and Lodestro terms commence on July 1 and Sponnoble will leave the board at the end of her term in June.