As budget vote and board election night draws near, community residents of all school districts are encouraged to voice their opinions as schools prepare for the 2013-14 academic year.
On Tuesday, school districts statewide will leave the fate of their proposed budgets in the hands of the public as they try to deal with limited funding and increasing numbers of state mandates.
The added pressure on school officials, desiring to be compliant with state law, has forced them to make difficult decisions-some more popular than others-regarding district expenses and tax levies. Despite a unifying factor of inadequate state funding, area districts have been strewn across the financial spectrum of increases and decreases.
Among the area's proposed budgets, Bemus Point Central School currently reflects the highest percentage increase in both expense and tax levy realms. During a controversial public budget hearing, school officials and concerned residents expressed disagreement over the considerable expenditure increase in the amount of $645,175.
"I don't understand how (Bemus Point), out of 18 school districts in Chautauqua County, is the only one that is showing these increases every year in its school budget," said Mike Metzger, a former Bemus Point board member of nine years, at the budget hearing. "I expect you to build a responsible budget, and I don't expect you to spend things before they need to be spent."
"We believe we have built a responsible budget," said Jacqueline Latshaw, Bemus Point superintendent, who said the district's facilities are in need of an upgrade from a technological and maintenance standpoint. "We can continue to not buy things and, eventually, we will not be able to provide an education for the students that go to school here."
On the other side of the coin, Ripley Central School's proposed budget reflects a 1.75 percent spending decrease, paired with a 4.08 percent tax levy decrease. Ripley board member Ted Rickenbrode said the budget reflects the "lowest tax rate in eight years."
Much, if not all, of these decreases can be attributed to Ripley's recent tuition agreement with Chautauqua Lake Central School, which will send all seventh- through 12th-grade Ripley students to Chautauqua Lake for the 2013-14 school year.
Additionally, despite a substantial budget gap between revenues and projected expenditures, Jamestown Public Schools managed to put together one of the more promising budget proposals in the last few years. The JPS budget indicates a 1.86 percent spending decrease and no change in the tax levy.
At its recent public budget hearing, Dale Weatherlow, assistant superintendent for administration, said the lower amount came through the retirement of 16 teachers, providing the district with a $511,000 decrease in certified salaries, and allowing it to hire new teachers at lower salaries. As a latent function of the teachers' retirement, the district also managed to avoid having to cut current teaching positions, doing so through attrition instead.
"In the end, equipment purchases were delayed, and we will certainly lean more heavily on our fund balances and reserves," said Deke Kathman, JPS superintendent, in a pamphlet sent to community residents. "But the board's perseverance resulted in being able to rescue 14 positions from the cut list, ultimately eliminating only 2.5 instructional positions."