Johnsburg Central School
“We’re going into a time of continual cutting.”
Michael Markwica, Johnsburg Central School District's superintendent, didn't have much more to offer the dozen or so people attending the school board's meeting March 12. Markwica and district business manager Kathy Spring had just finished outlining one likely scenario for the 2012-13 district budget.
“I think we’ll be back here next year with even more severe cuts,” Markwica said.
At the meeting, the district's finance committee presented a proposed budget totaling $9.7 million, down from the $9.9 million plan approved for 2011-12. A vote on the budget is due May 15. The next board meeting is March 26.
It's estimated that the tax levy will be $5.3 million, $17,900 — 0.3 percent — more than last year's levy. The state-mandated 2 percent tax cap, which actually is a formula that can hold districts, towns and counties to much less than 2 percent, restricts Johnsburg to a maximum 0.6 percent increase this coming year.
To get to those numbers, the committee performed triage on a curriculum reeling from five years of cost cutting.
Four proposed items sparked the most conversation.
1) Markwica said the district would save money by bringing back two Johnsburg special-education students who attend Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) classes. At the same time, a special-education student from the Indian Lake Central School District would transfer from BOCES to Johnsburg.
The three high-need students would form their own class. Indian Lake would pay for a dedicated teacher's aid and contribute $20,000 in tuition to Johnsburg. Under this plan, no new teacher would be hired. Savings would come from not paying BOCES fees for the Johnsburg students.
Johnsburg's three special-education teachers would have to take on additional responsibilities associated with the three students' behavioral and medical needs, Spring said after the meeting.
2) The Tech program, what used to be called industrial arts or shop class, would be cut back under the proposal. Elective Tech classes would be reduced to as few as possibly one offering. The Tech instructor would go to half-time and be shared with Indian Lake.
Audience members were concerned that the skills taught in Tech remain practical and useful, and yet are being relegated to afterthoughts in the curriculum.
3) Computer instruction would also take a hit. The wall separating the high school computer lab and the high school library would be removed, enabling the library staff member to manage both spaces. Computer staff would be reshuffled, effectively resulting in one fewer staff member.
Here, residents worried that cuts could put students at a disadvantage. Skimping could end in students knowing how to use word processing, for instance, but not getting more-valuable insights into computing that colleges and the workforce demand.
4) Lowering annual contributions to building-and-maintenance reserves would help keep the levy low. Initially, the district was putting $100,000 a year into the reserves, which today total $476,000. The annual contribution recently was reduced to $85,000 year, and the reserve has since been tapped to pay debt service.
Under this plan, the district would only put $20,000 into reserves annually. Spring says the reserve total could be as low as $300,000 next year. She said that a big boiler or roof repair could wipe out the reserve and then some.
Markwica and board President Bill Conner took turns explaining the recommendations, putting them in the context of past actions and current moves being made by districts in the region or, sometimes, simply empathizing.
Cuts won't hurt students' education or chances at going to college, said Markwica. But, “I can't lie to you. It will impact students,” he said in response to a question by board member Mark Richards. “I'm not confident it will all go perfectly.”
A day after the meeting, Conner said that the board continues to work toward “a reasonable budget, one that doesn't decimate the program.” Johnsburg started paring spending five years ago, he said, and gradually has continued to make cuts.
“Other districts around us are looking at much more drastic cuts,” he said.