WESTFIELD - The Westfield Academy and Central School Board of Education approved its budget-building objectives recently with an eye toward keeping any possible tax increases below the state limit.
Steve Cockram, board vice president, said he believed the board can develop a 2014-15 budget with less of an increase in the tax levy than the state limit of 2 percent.
The board officially approved three objectives for developing its budget. The first is that it will strive to continue the district's history of "prudent fiscal management" and keep the tax levy at or below the state limit.
The second objective states that the budget will be determined by all stakeholders focusing on a fair approach to support and maintain existing programs. Recommendations for adjustments will be made based on enrollments, required educational outcomes, mandates and the WACS mission statement. This objective is based on viewing the budget, not as a year-to-year process, but taking into consideration the long-term needs of the district.
The third objective states that the use of fund balances and reserves will be done in a "fiscally prudent manner in order to support the educational program and ensure the long-term fiscal health of the district." Reserves will be employed to balance educational needs with long-term stability.
Al Holbrook, district business official, told the board that financial projections for the Westfield school are based on a five-year plan and careful management in past years has allowed the outlook to slowly improve.
"The bottom line is that the financial picture looks vastly different now than it did three years ago," he said. The district still has more than $1 million in its fund balance and projections indicate that reserves for the coming year could be at $2.8 million, he said, although some expenses are difficult to project.
"We're not sure what's going to happen with health insurance, no one does," he said.
Jeff Greabell, board president, commended the work of the finance committee so far. "We got a good base for our actions as we move along. It's going to be an interesting process. It always is," he said.
In a related matter, board member Brenda Backus reported that she has met with David Walter of the architectural firm Clark Patterson Lee to discuss a five-year plan for buildings and grounds.
"There are a number of structural issues that need addressing. We will look at obtaining the maximum benefit with the least effect on the taxpayer," she said.
The board also heard a presentation from second-grade teacher Kendra Mills on the implementation of the Common Core program in that grade level. She reported that the students were taking well to the new curriculum.
"We are asking some tough upper-level questions and the kids are rising to the challenge," she said. "We're asking them to do some challenging things and they don't seem to be struggling with it."