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Johnstown resubmits same budget for voter approval

Johnstown resubmits same budget for voter approval

District seeks 60 percent approval for 5% tax hike; previous vote failed
Johnstown resubmits same budget for voter approval
Knox Junior High School’s athletic field, of Johnstown School District, in Johnstown on Monday, June 3, 2019.
Photographer: Erica Miller/Staff Photographer

JOHNSTOWN --  The school board of the Greater Johnstown School District has decided to double-down on the $38.97 million 2020-21 school budget proposal that failed to get the 60 percent supermajority vote it needed for approval on June 9. 

The school board voted 8-0 on June 24 to resubmit the same budget for voter approval at a future school budget election sometime in July. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued an emergency order allowing school districts whose budgets failed on June 9 to go out for a revote after July 9, but no revote date or method has yet been specified. 

The proposed budget includes a 5 percent ($492,790) tax levy increase to the district's $9.85 million total property tax levy. On June 9, the budget failed even though 57 percent of voters approved it. It missed the 60 percent threshold by 72 votes -- 1,526 voted yes, with 1,137 against.

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School board President Chris Tallon told the public at Johnstown's June 17 meeting that the board had worked hard to lower a proposed 14-percent tax levy hike down to 9 percent and then to 5 percent. He said no more cuts can be made without negatively affecting the education of the district's students. 

"I am going to ask every single one of our district residents to look deep down within themselves and ask what it is they want their community to look like," Tallon said during a lengthy statement imploring the community to support the budget. "Because without a school district you will not have a community at all. ...  We need your support now more than ever and we hope you can find it within yourself to lend us your support."

In order to trim its proposed tax levy increase the Johnstown school board closed two schools, Glebe Street Elementary and Knox Junior High School, saving $600,000, and eliminating three teacher positions, two food service workers, one nurse, two principals, six teaching assistants, one secretary, a two-thirds athletic director position and one assistant principal. 

The board also used $3 million of the district's fund balance of unspent tax revenues to balance the budget. District officials project there will be approximately $1 million in reserves at the conclusion of the 2020-21 school year if the budget revote succeeds. 

If Johnstown's budget revote fails, the district will implement a contingency budget with an additional $890,0000 in cuts, including one assistant principal, at least five teachers, one nurse, five teaching assistants, two or more curriculum instruction leaders, “some to all” extracurricular activities, field trips, equipment and the district’s NYS School Boards Association Membership. 

Under a contingency budget, the school board has discussed offering fewer sports teams, but no plan has been finalized. It remains unknown what sports will be allowed for the 2020-21 school year due to the COVID-19 virus. Johnstown cut nearly all of the funding for athletics in the 2019-20 budget, but a private donation $300,000 fundraising campaign restored the sports program, although it was shut down in the spring by the pandemic. 

Johnstown's interim superintendent Karen Geelan said Johnstown would implement its contingency budget starting July 1 but no layoff notices will be sent out to employees until and unless the budget revote fails to get 60 percent approval.

Geelan has said state officials have indicated the budget revote will likely occur sometime between July 21 and July 28, but no directive from Cuomo so far has indicated whether an in-person vote will be allowed, or whether it will be all mail-in. The June 23 political party primary elections did allow in-person voting after absentee ballot applications were sent out to all registered voters. 

During the June 9 election three people were elected to Johnstown's school board with newcomber David D’Amore (1,966 votes) receiving the most votes, incumbent  Beverly Alves (1,531 votes) coming in second place and write-in candidate Joyel Richardson (44 write-in votes) came in third. D'Amore and Alves replace outgoing members Evamarie Mraz and Noelle Smrtic.

The new members will be sworn-in at the district's July 7 organizational meeting at 6:30 p.m. 
 

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