GJSD: Everyone must give for the greater good

The Greater Johnstown School District is in dire straits as it considers a potential 50 percent tax levy increase. Major missteps that have brought the district to this point include: overuse of fund balance, i.e. “under-taxing” and not keeping up with the cost of doing business and long-range planning which did not adequately consider the documented trend of the district’s declining population — the district did not lose 323 students overnight.

Budgeted expenditures of $38.5 million are $2.9 million, 8.1 percent greater than the 2018-2019 budget. What are the reasons for the increase? The 2019-2020 budget is not on the district’s website at the time of this writing, so budget numbers cannot be evaluated. Among the district’s proposals to reduce expenses are elimination of varsity sports, extra-curricular activities, yearbook and elective classes. These are not major dollar items, but they are key components of a child’s educational experience.

A committee has been formed to study the possibility of another building closure. However, a report will not be forthcoming until August. This is unacceptable given the gravity of the situation. An all hands-on-deck approach is required with a report issued before the vote with an action plan to be immediately implemented, not 2020-2021, as the superintendent stated. Where is the sense of urgency?

The majority of the district’s expenses are salaries and benefits. Health insurance of $6.7 million comprised almost 19 percent of this year’s budget, with the district paying an average 83 percent share of the expense and employees paying the balance. This is not sustainable – either the employee share must be increased or less expensive plans must be offered.

Salaries of $13.4 million are approximately 38 percent of this year’s budget (the 2019-2020 budget is currently not available). A real pay freeze is in order, not just a salary schedule freeze as reported. Teachers continue to receive step increases. A real freeze for all employees is needed. Pay is negotiated, but needs to be renegotiated. These are extraordinary times requiring extraordinary measures.

We need to renegotiate the bargaining agreements and work together for the greater good.

Taking these steps will create shared pain, but if the district and its partners are willing to put forth a good faith effort and address these major issues, hopefully, the voters will be willing to “take one for the team.” Otherwise, our children and community will suffer immensely.