Weekly Feature

2015-05-13 / Local News

Amherst schools detail budget

¦ Reduction of guidance counselor position opposed
by PATRICK J. NAGY Reporter

In an Amherst schools budget hearing on May 5, Business Administrator Melanie Conley detailed the 2015-16 budget expenditures and revenues.

District residents will go to the polls from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 19, to vote on the $53.6 million proposition, an increase in spending of $2.85 million, or 5.62 percent, from the current year’s budget.

“We tried to bring forth a budget that is affordable to most,” Conley said.

The tax levy will increase by 2.77 percent, which means if a home is assessed at $100,000 at the current rate of $21.97 per $1,000, homeowners would have to pay an additional $61 on their tax bill, an increase of approximately $5.08 per month.

In addition to the levy increase, other revenue — including county sales tax, offerings in community education and interest earnings — is projected to decrease by $62,600, while total state aid is expected to increase $933,000, or 8.20 percent.

The district received $12.3 million in total state aid — $400,000 more than anticipated — and it lost less money from the state’s gap elimination adjustment, which has been projected at $800,000, rather than $1.3 million, the amount for the current year.

Since 2010-11, the district has lost $8.8 million due to the GEA, a device created by the state to balance its own budget.Total revenues are projected to increase $1.8 million, or 3.59 percent, from the 2014-15 school year. Spending in personnel increased 4.02 percent, while benefits decreased 4.33 percent.

Workers compensation premiums decreased 5 percent. Health insurance will decrease by 3 percent due to current year performances. BOCES aid is projected to increase 10 percent, or $236,000, because of higher student attendance and participation, and a different pricing structure.

The district will also take part in a capital outlay grant for small projects up to $100,000 and be reimbursed at a building aid ratio of 78 percent.

Transportation costs are projected to increase $1.4 million, or 63.29 percent, because of a potential new five-year contract with the First Student bus company.

Conley said if residents vote down the five-year contract, the district would enter into a year-to-year agreement with First Student. Conley said the district will be reimbursed through transportation aid in 2016-17.

The district will save $260,000 in spending in 2015-16 through a combination of personnel reductions, which include combining boys junior varsity and varsity volleyball, eliminating girls gymnastics and three teacher retirements. Boys junior varsity volleyball will merge with varsity volleyball for a savings of almost $7,000. Modified volleyball will remain an available sport for student participation.

Girls gymnastics will be eliminated as a result of low participation, for a savings of $5,300.

Three employees — a 0.5 full-time-equivalent special teacher at Smallwood Drive Elementary, a teacher aide at Smallwood and one guidance counselor at the high school — are expected to lose their jobs, resulting in a savings of $90,000.

Another three teachers will retire, and the positions will not be filled, for a savings of $157,000.

The potential reduction of the high school guidance counselor would save the district $50,000.

Chabe said the decision was based on declining enrollment trends as well as comparative data with other area school districts, which showed a ratio of 250 students for every one guidance counselor. That is also the ratio recommended by the National Counseling Association.

There are five guidance counselors employed at the high school for 789 students.

Eliminating a guidance counselor would result in a ratio of 200 students for every one guidance counselor. Board President David Stocking said if the board balanced the budget by making only spending reductions, it would have eliminated approximately 38 positions.

“Had we not chosen a reduction in guidance, it would have necessitated another reduction in possibly the arts, athletics, an academic offering or one that led to a larger class size,” he said.

Thepotentialreductionofacounselor was met with much opposition from district residents during the regular School Board meeting.

Dave Benton, student services department chairman, said losing a counselor would have a significant effect on every student, teacher and parent.

Laurie LeGoff, a high school guidance counselor, said that while examining last year’s budget vote exit polls, a concern of community taxpayers was not to impact programs that would affect a large number of students.

“The counseling office impacts every single student,” LeGoff said. “A cut to our program would be contrary to what has been articulated as important by our community members.”

Ann McLellan said guidance counselors bridge the gap between academics, home and life.

“They are really keeping the students on track,” he said.

Lynn Ramsey, president of the Amherst Central Alumni Foundation, said eliminating a guidance counselor could affect the high school graduation rate, which is 93 percent. She asked the board to re-examine where cuts can be made and inquired if the district is “heavy” with administrators as an area of potential reductions.

The district has closed a $1.9 million budget gap for the 2015-16 school year through the use of surplus and reserves.

The district has been making an effort to contain budget costs. Over the past three years, the district has saved $2 million as a result of shared services with other districts as well as efficiencies within the district.

The savings are much higher than what is required by the state for a new government efficiency plan, which is asking districts to show they have reduced 1 percent of the levy, or $330,000, since July 1, 2012.

Future budget years remain a concern. Even with the application of reserves and surplus — which would lower the district’s total fund balance from $8.1 million to $6.9 million — the district is facing a $1.9 million deficit in 2016-17 and a $3 million gap in 2017-18. If the budget is defeated, it can be put before voters again. If it is defeated twice, the district would reduce the 2015-16 budget by $919,577 and move to a contingency plan.

Under a contingency budget, the levy cannot be greater than what the levy was in the previous year.

A contingency budget would also mean the district would not allow free public use of buildings and grounds and there would be no new equipment purchases, student supplies, nonessential maintenance, and a change in salary for non-instructional and non-unionized employees, or capital expenditures, except in an emergency.

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