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Johnstown district plans no hike in levy

Johnstown district plans no hike in levy

The Greater Johnstown School District school board adopted a $27.5 million budget for the 2009-10 sc

The Greater Johnstown School District school board adopted a $27.5 million budget for the 2009-10 school year Thursday night with no increase in the total property tax levy.

The levy is projected to remain at $7 million. District officials said individual property taxpayers may see their bills go up or down based on tax equalization rates. The budget is about $27.5 million, lower than this year’s $29.1 million.

School Board President Robert Curtis said the district found savings when its business staff created an “actual budget” that examined every expenditure for 2009-10.

“It takes a lot of work to do an actual budget versus a rollover budget, and I really praise their effort. They were trying to come up with more exact figures, and that’s where we’ve seen the savings,” Curtis said.

Johnstown expects to save about $819,000 from closing Jansen Avenue Elementary School, which allowed the district to not replace 13 teachers who are retiring. Johnstown Interim Business Manager Ralph Acquaro said the district received some good budget news this week when the cost of one of the health insurance policies it offers increased by 8.5 percent for next year, rather than the 20 percent increase the district faces for some of its other health plans. The district’s health insurance costs will increase by $729,000 next year, down from earlier projections of an $850,000 increase. For 2009-10 the district will spend approximately $5 million for health insurance, up from $4.3 million for 2008-09.

Curtis said it was unfortunate that the district couldn’t cut taxes from the savings created by closing Jansen Avenue.

“Unfortunately, we lost most of that savings due to the health insurance raise,” he said.

Acquaro said even with the budget shrinking by $1.6 million and overall state and federal aid projected to increase by $202,656 due to the federal stimulus package, he still thinks the district will need to spend some of its fund balance. But he isn’t sure how much. Acquaro said he expects there to be enough money to balance the 2009-10 budget with a few hundred thousand dollars left over.

Curtis said school board members doubt statements made by state officials about state education aid remaining flat from last year, and they adopted a budget without a tax cut to prepare for that possibility.

“We still think we’re going to get a hit from the state. That $1.6 million that we’re down may end up being a wash because of the state aid getting cut mid-year,” Curtis said. “It’s terrible to have to pass a budget not knowing what your state aid will be, and we won’t know it until August.”

Officials said next year they will take aim at determining why the district’s lunch and breakfast program lost $200,000 for 2008-09 and is budgeted to lose the same again. Acquaro said ideally the school meal program should break even. He said the district might always want a small taxpayer subsidy of the meals program to keep the food affordable for students, but not as much as $200,000.

“We need to break that down and see where we’re losing money and get together with some of the other districts in the surrounding area that are profitable or breaking even. We don’t need to make a profit, but $200,000 is quite excessive,” Curtis said.

The school board is set to meet at 6:30 p.m. May 5 inside the Johnstown High School Lecture Hall for the public hearing on the budget. The district vote is May 19.

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