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GJSD holds virtual public hearing

JOHNSTOWN — About 15 to 20 questions were asked during the Greater Johnstown School District’s public hearing Wednesday night on a proposed building reconfiguration.

Board President Christopher Tallon said it was the district’s “first-ever” virtual hearing, shown online with people asking questions by phone and Facebook. The district’s buildings are shut down because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I hope everyone is remaining healthy during this trying time,” Tallon said.

The district is considering approval of a building reconfiguration plan that weighs heavily on one option known as Option 5. The option is expected to save the district $600,000 and allow the district’s proposed 2020-21 budget tax levy limit to be reduced from 14 percent to 9 percent. Grades seven and eight would be taught at Johnstown High School. Knox Junior High School would be repurposed, mostly for district offices, pre-K and Head Start and rental space. Glebe Street Elementary School may become the new home of HFM BOCES’s PTECH. Pleasant Avenue Elementary School would have grades K through 2, while Warren Street Elementary School would house grades 3 to 6 in its 26 classrooms. Jansen Avenue School may be sold or rented.

Following a presentation by Interim Superintendent Karen Geelan, the board opened up the video conference meeting to the public.

Johnstown Teachers Association President Nancy Lisicki stated, “We are concerned about the faculty and staffing cuts.”

Geelan said Option 5 staffing “changes” include reducing three teachers, two food service workers, one nurse, two principals, six teacher assistants, and one secretary.

Another questioner was concerned about how JHS will handle the younger students during “unstructured times” such as lunch and before and after school. High School Principal Scott Hale said there will be a separate entrance for seventh and eighth graders, and there will be separate lunches. He said “safety of the children” is a high priority.

“The supervision wouldn’t necessarily be that long,” Hale said.

Joseph Natale asked about needing a supermajority approval for the district budget in May and what happens if it is not reached.

“We’re going to have to make some very drastic cuts,” Geelan said, including athletics again.

Tallon added, “That 9 percent [tax hike] is basically the bottom line. That’s basically where we need to function.”

Barbara Van Der Werken, a Knox teacher, proposed a different set up that included just eighth grade for JHS, urging caution by the board.

“There’s going to be no going back,” she said. “It’s not a flexible solution.”

A caller identified as “Amy” asked about the 9 percent, adding: “That’s definitely a little positive news here.”

Another caller asked about transportation issues and about shuttle buses for the Glebe area.

“We are now contracting with someone to run some bus runs so we can have that sooner than later,” Geelan said.

Dick from Johnstown asked about the sale of the Jansen building, with Geelan noting none of it is built into the next budget. She said the building has not been put on the market yet and may still be rented.

District nurse Deb Ruggeri said she was concerned about the two food service helpers being cut.

During her presentation, Geelan stated: “We have seen enrollment declines.” But she said the district is also looking at alternatives if enrollment picks back up. She said CASDA offered a new plan, which the district has taken a hard look at.

“We took a lot of their ideas and it stretched our thinking,” she said.

Geelan said there advantages for all three schools still being utilized for classrooms by the district. For example, she said Warren will have separate art and music classrooms and access to a pool. JHS will have “sufficient” lockers for all, she said.

She said under Option 5, there would be a library media specialist in each school. She said athletics and extracurriculars will be reinstated in the budget. The full-time athletic director position would be reinstated. Four nurses would work three schools. Art, music and physical education would be taught by certified teachers. She said she appreciated the public input Wednesday night.

“It’s been very helpful to us,” Geelan said.

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