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Johnstown School Board cuts more teachers to save $825,000

Johnstown School Board cuts more teachers to save $825,000

District exploring distance learning
Johnstown School Board cuts more teachers to save $825,000
Residents arrive to vote at Johnstown High School on May 21.
Photographer: Erica Miller

JOHNSTOWN — The Greater Johnstown School District school board abolished seven positions Thursday night and accepted one resignation as well as nine retirements, all part of $825,000 in spending cuts prompted by the failure of the district's May 21 budget vote. 

The positions abolished were: one elementary teacher, one science teacher, one mathematics teacher, two English teachers, one teaching assistant and one painter. 

The teacher who resigned was English teacher Kristin DuGuay. In April the district accepted the resignations of Ann Stefka as administrative secretary; Sara Lewis as director of special education, pupil services and special programs; elementary teacher Jessica Porter; and physical education teacher Justin Roehl.

"These [eliminations] take out that layer of elective choice. When we analyzed the budget, we realized we couldn't [eliminate as many teachers as we need to] in a single year, because then some of our kids couldn't get enough credits to graduate," Superintendent Patricia Kilburn said. "In the proposed budget, some of those positions come out now, and the remaining [at least three] will have to come out next year." 

Johntown's budget woes have prompted the district to create a long-term plan of revamping the district's high school curriculum to be a career pathways high school program for graduation, which shares some similarities to P-Tech alternative high schools, but next year the program will remain largely unchanged. Kilburn said students will now have only one section of the electives offered at the high school, which when there are conflicts with other needed courses will mean the student can't take the class. 

Kilburn said Johnstown does not currently have a distance learning program, which enables students to use a video-internet connection to take classes offered at other schools. She said the district is exploring how to do that for 2019-20, but cautioned that the district's teacher's union contract forbids the district from offering an option for students to take the same classes offered by the positions eliminated in the budget. 

"You can't take work away from a teacher and replace it with another version of that work. We are looking to introduce distance learning for programs that we don't currently offer, for example we haven't had French in [a long time], so maybe we could offer French again," she said. 

Staff retirements accepted by the board Thursday night were: Leo Loveless, director of facilities; MariJo Quinn, elementary teacher; Patricia Robinson, elementary teacher; Ann Marie Brand, cook; Sherry Ermie, school secretary; Nancy Gill, sccount clerk typist; Edward Shults, custodian; Sherry Simonds, administrative assistant; and Ann Stefka, administrative secretary.

Three Board of Education members — Board President Kathy Dougherty, Board Vice President Greg Truckenmiller and three-term member Jennifer Sponnoble — were honored for retiring from service on the board. Dougherty and Truckenmiller opted not to run for re-election and Sponnoble was defeated in her bid for a fourth term. 

Kilburn said the school district's workforce has shrunk by about 32 positions over the past two years through layoff, resignation or retirement. The lost positions have increased class size in the district's elementary school levels, but not above the district's target of mid-20s. She said Johnstown High School no longer has a business education program due to the layoffs.

Johnstown has adopted a $37.87 million 2019-20 budget with a 14.6 percent tax levy increase that it will put before voters June 18. The increase is within the New York state tax cap, which means 51 percent voter approval will pass the budget. Johnstown's tax cap increase is larger than the approximately 2 percent tax levy increase normally allowed by New York state thanks to exempted spending on debt service for the district's recent capital project.

The tax cap budget eliminates 19 staff positions total, cuts nearly all funding for sports and extracurricular activities and spends $2.3 million of Johnstown's unrestricted reserves, leaving the district with only $2.7 million left it can apply to emergency expenses next year or its general fund expenses in subsequent years. The district would still have $3.06 million in reserves restricted for specific purposes. 

Kilburn has proposed a plan to attempt to increase the district's tax levy by about 15 percent in each of the next two years in order to maintain the funding needed for the district's high school and kindergarten and restore some funding for sports. 

School Board member Ron Beck said he hopes people will come out and vote June 18.

"I hope people see that we are cutting a lot positions, cutting a lot of expenses," Beck said.

Kilburn said voting on June 18 will run 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., most likely in the lobby of the district's performing arts center.

If Johnstown's tax cap budget is defeated June 18, the district will go to a contingency budget, which would force it to charge any outside organization for the full cost of using the district's facilities, including electricity and custodial labor.

She said a contingency budget would have no tax increase, cause a much deeper use of the district's dwindling reserves, and hasten a scenario whereby the district would need very large property tax levy increases within the next two years to maintain the district's high school and kindergarten. 

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