Johnstown’s school budget passes

An emotional Greater Johnstown School District Superintendent Patricia Kilburn reacts to passage of the district's 2019-20 budget Tuesday night at Johnstown High School. (The Leader-Herald/Michae Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — Greater Johnstown School District residents in a revote on Tuesday approved the district’s contentious $37.8 million budget for 2019-20 by 63 percent.

The vote was 1393 to 803.

Voters only had to approve it by 50 percent, but the 2,196 total voting block’s approval exceeded that threshold by 13 percent. The district revote included about 100 absentee votes.

An emotional Superintendent Patricia Kilburn wept as the tally was announced by district Clerk Larraina Carpenter about 90 minutes after the polls closed at Johnstown High School. She embraced board President Kathy Dougherty and addressed the Capital District media minutes later.

“I think this vote represents the community’s growth and awareness,” Kilburn said.

Election inspectors count votes Tuesday night at Johnstown High School for the Greater Johnstown School District budget, which passed. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

The second district budget offered this spring contained a 14.6 percent tax levy increase that was within the state cap. A simple majority of voters — more than 50 percent — was required for budget approval.

If voters had rejected the second budget, the district would have had to go to a contingency budget that wouldn’t have allowed the district to increase its tax levy over the previous year.

But as it stands, Kilburn acknowledged the district’s budgetary work is far from done. She noted the district has a three-year plan with the second and third school years still calling for 14 percent tax levy hikes. At least for the 2020-21 budget, the district predicts a much lower state tax levy cap that would need a 60 percent supermajority from voters for approval in May 2020.

“Certainly, the board is going to need supermajority votes in the next year,” Kilburn said.

The superintendent commented that the budget process has been an emotional strain on the district and the Johnstown community.

“Its been hard,” Kilburn said. “We still have a long way to go … Paying taxes is a hard thing to do.”

The district’s first proposed budget –a $38.7 million spending plan — was defeated May 21 by a vote of 1,150 yes to 1,147 no. The district then did not meet the required supermajority vote of 60 percent. The original 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.

District voters on Tuesday apparently found the latest budget more palatable, as the school system tries to work itself out of a budget crunch that officials say has included less enrollment, using two much fund balance, and keeping tax increases too low in recent years.

The budget’s levy will now increase from $8.6 million to $9.85 million for the 2019-20 school year. The district says it has a three-year plan that includes possibly raising the levy again by 14 percent the second and third years, possibly closing a school, less electives and fundraising for athletics.

The adopted $37,870,477 budget for the 2019-20 school year calls for a 6.2 percent spending increase over this year’s operating budget. Almost all of the proposed spending increase is for capital project expenditures; most capital project expenditures are matched by state building aid.

In addition to the $500,000 worth of cuts that were called for in the initial budget proposal, the revised budget reflected an additional $825,000 in cuts. The cuts include a reduction of 19 staff positions, including 13 teachers, as well as support staff and administrators.

The budget preserves $200,000 for athletics transportation and administrative functions, but the remaining $311,890 needed to support the district’s interscholastic athletics program would have to be fundraised by the community. Similarly, the budget includes $33,000 for limited extracurricular offerings for students.

Although the budget preserves certain electives, others won’t be offered. Course options at Knox Junior High School may be expanded. Extracurriculars that will still be offered with this budget include funding the four JHS classes, JHS and Knox student councils, National Honor Society, yearbook, Odyssey of the Mind, and music and Winterguard programs would continue its fundraising too.

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