Qualified residents of the Greater Johnstown School District will vote on a revised $37,870,477 budget proposal for the 2019-20 school year on Tuesday, June 18. Members of the Board of Education adopted the revised budget proposal after residents voted down a budget proposal that called for a 35% tax levy increase and required a 60% supermajority of voters for approval. The revised budget proposal calls for a 14.6% tax levy increase, which is equal to the district’s state-calculated tax “cap,” and therefore requires approval by a simple majority (more than 50%) of voters.
In addition to the $500,000 worth of cuts that were called for in the initial budget proposal, the revised budget proposal reflects an additional $825,000 in cuts. The cuts include a reduction of 19 staff positions, including 13 teachers, as well as support staff and administrators. As a result of these cuts, high school students would have limited choice of elective classes during the 2019-20 school year.
The budget preserves $200,000 for athletics transportation and administrative functions, but the remaining $311,890 needed to support the district’s interscholastic athletics program would have to be fundraised by the community. Similarly, the budget includes $33,000 for limited extracurricular offerings for students, and board members said they would allow fundraising to support winter guard and the high school’s spring musical.
The proposed budget also calls for the use of more than $2.6 million of the district’s nearly $8 million in savings, accelerating the rate at which the district is spending down its fund balance and reserves. According to financial consultant Dr. Rick Timbs, who spoke at a Johnstown budget workshop on May 30, public school districts cannot operate without sufficient savings to cover operating expenses during the months before they receive revenue from state aid and property taxes, as well as savings to cover potential liabilities, such as court decisions. Timbs noted that Johnstown’s savings are already depleted to the point that the district is in danger of having its credit rating downgraded, which would mean higher interest rates on future borrowing.
If the revised budget does not gain the approval of a simple majority of voters, the Board of Education must adopt a contingent budget. Under the property tax cap law, a school district that adopts a contingent budget cannot increase its tax levy over the previous year. If Johnstown adopts a contingent budget, the district would prioritize at least half-day kindergarten and its core high school program for the 2019-20 school year. Additional eliminations would include elementary academic support programs and elementary art and music, including band and chorus. The community fundraising goal to preserve athletics may be increased up to $200,000.
Polls for the budget revote will be open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 18 in the lobby of the high school performing arts center. Additional information about voting is available on the district website, www.johnstownschools.org.
Residents are invited to learn more and ask questions about the budget proposal at a public budget hearing starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 11 in the JHS lecture hall. Residents who are not registered to vote can register to vote on the revised budget proposal 4-8 p.m. Tuesday, June 11.
Detailed information about the revised budget proposal will be posted on the district website. An informational brochure will be mailed to all households prior to the vote.