By Rich Place
The West Valley School Board of Education hosted another budget hearing Monday night as it prepares to send the same proposed 2018-19 school budget, as well as a bus proposition, to voters who turned down the spending plan in mid-May.
The board opted to allow residents to vote June 19, the date mandated by the state for school districts to put failed budgets up for a revote, on the $9.8 million spending plan that includes a 2 percent increase in the tax levy.
A second failure of the budget would force adoption of a contingency budget that does not have an increase in the tax levy for the 2018-19 school year. The district last operated under contingency in 2016-17, when the board chose to immediately adopt a contingency plan instead of putting the failed budget up for a re-vote.
The presentation on Monday consisted of roughly a half hour budget presentation that focused not only on economics with school business executive Ann O’Brien but also on academic program highlights with school principal Daniel Amodeo.
The prepared remarks and slideshow by the two school officials was followed by roughly an hour of public comment amongst school officials, the board and members of the public. Topics included college-level course offerings, an explanation of district reserves, spending per pupil and administrative costs before culminating on the subject of annexation and the study that will be presented next week.
Norbert Warnes, a district taxpayer, questioned whether the district will be able to finance the next steps in a potential annexation study under a contingency budget. Dr. William Silky of education consultants Castallo & Silky LLC is expected to report on the results of a pre-annexation study with the Ellicottville and Springville-Griffith Institute school districts during a special meeting on June 21.
O’Brien noted it was advised by school attorneys a consultant could not be hired to do a study under a contingency spending plan without risk of being challenged.
“Under a contingency budget you are restricted by the guidelines of the state of New York,” she said. “Basically the board would determine whether or not an expense was a contingent expense and somebody, anybody, could challenge that.”
“And the preponderance was, we would lose,” added school board president Stephen Kowalski.
Significant time during a public question-and-answer session was spent on the school’s administrative costs, which make up about 12 percent of the overall budget, and Warnes asked what the board was doing to reduce that figure.
“We were constantly looking this budget that has been put out,” said Kowalski, “it is the best — we feel — the best effort of working together as a board and the administration to continue to offer to these young people what we’ve done.”
The district’s cost per pupil was also challenged and a question was asked to district officials and the board about whether a plan was in place to reduce the amount.
“It’s not a point, unfortunately, that has one answer,” Kowalski said. “We are obviously trying to build some interest and we’d really like to get more students. Everybody does.”
He also noted incoming board members have “some fabulous ideas” but it has to be seen how they can put into a system that has many state mandates and regulations.
“And you also need to remember options are there, we look at all of them, but you can’t just jump at all of them,” Kowalski added. “We are limited by what we can do and where we can go, and please come next Thursday (to the pre-annexation study presentation).”
The budget and bus proposition revote will be held from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday, June 19 in the school gymnasium. On the ballot will be the proposed 2018-19 budget with the 2 percent tax increase that is within the tax cap, O’Brien said, as well as a proposition to purchase a 22-passenger school bus at a cost of $53,232, which has a local share of $11,818 after state aid.
“The very same day that we voted (on May 15) this bus broke down on the side of the road and had to go get some transmission work done on it,” O’Brien said during her presentation. “It’s in rough shape and it’s starting to cost us money.”
School superintendent Eric Lawton told the board it will not convene the night of the budget vote but will accept the results during a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. June 21 prior to the pre-annexation study presentation scheduled for 7 p.m. that night.
The board reminded the public it is invited to the pre-annexation meeting, hosted by Castallo & Silky LLC. The meeting will take place in the school auditorium.