Upcounty districts set for school budget votes


For the Recorder

Residents of Canajoharie, Fort Plain and Oppenheim Ephratah-St. Johnsville central school districts will vote on each school's 2013-14 budget on Tuesday.

Canajoharie Central School District residents will vote on a proposed $19.7 million budget. The proposal increases spending by 2.53 percent over 2012-13 and carries a tax levy increase of 2.5 percent.

To offset cost increases, the proposed spending plan uses almost $1 million in fund balance/reserves to improve district's current programs and stay under the district's 4.2 percent tax levy limit. Although the district used $913,514 in reserves in the 2012-13 school year, the Board of Education continued to place priorities on using revenues to balance the budget and allocate resources to improve student outcomes.

Superintendent Deborah Grimshaw said an approximate 2.5 percent increase in state aid was not enough to balance the budget, and the 2.5 percent tax levy increase is to support increases in expenses the district cannot control such as state-mandated retirement contributions and health insurance.

On May 21, polls are open in the lobby of the Canajoharie High School from 12 Noon to 9 p.m. By law, all voters must be U.S. citizens, age 18 or older and residents of the district for at least 30 days prior to the vote. Advance registration is not required.

Incumbent candidate Rachael Mason will run unopposed for a five year seat on the Canajoharie Central School District Board of Education.

The Fort Plain Central School District Board of Education unanimously adopted the $19,300,000 budget. The proposed spending plan, which calls for a year-to-year spending increase of 3.76 percent, would carry a tax levy increase of 0.95 percent.

The Board of Education crafted the proposed budget with a goal of maintaining programs without increasing taxes above the district's tax levy limit of 4.75 percent. The board also focused on continuing to look for savings and utilizing reserve funds. As a result, the proposed spending plan makes no significant changes to the district's academic programs.

Despite the increased costs associated with employee health insurance and New York State Retirement System contributions, the proposed budget avoids deep staff and program cuts such as those the district made over the past few years to address funding shortfalls. The proposal calls for the use of $950,000 in the district's savings to help offset those rising costs, approximately $37,000 in Federal sequestration cuts and $457,944 in cuts to state aid due to the Gap Elimination Adjustment (G.E.A.).

The proposal would also use some of the district's reserve funds to bring back art programs and reduce physical education class sizes in the elementary school.

The spending plan also proposes to further strengthen academic programs by not eliminating any teaching positions and restoring field trips.

Since the proposed tax levy falls under the district's calculated tax levy limit of 4.21 percent, the 2013-14 budget would require approval by a simple majority of voters to pass (50 percent plus 1).

In Fort Plain, the budget vote will take place in the Harry Hoag Elementary gymnasium from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Incumbents Louis R. Capece and Ronald Kardash are running unopposed for three year seats on the Fort Plain Central School District Board of Education.

The OESJ Board of Education adopted a nearly $18.1 million proposed budget. Calling for no increase in taxes, the new district's tax levy -- $4,830,151 -- is equal to the two separate levies paid by Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville residents last year. For 2012-13, the Oppenheim-Ephratah tax levy was $2,443,412 and St. Johnsville's was $2,386,739.

As a result of the merger, the district is set to receive $1,466,161 in state merger incentive aid next year and an increase of approximately $300,000 in basic operating aid compared to what the two former districts combined received in the last state budget.

OESJ's budget proposal calls for adding an English language arts coach and a math coach for the coming school year. A kindergarten teacher also would be added and a current part-time pre-kindergarten teaching position would be made full time.

The merged district will offer full-day UPK at both its elementary schools.

The budget would also bring back driver's education. St. Johnsville has not had a driver's education program in many years, while Oppenheim-Ephratah cut its program for this year. Funding for two full-time librarians is also in the budget. The two districts currently have one part-time librarian each.

The budget also has funding for a bus mechanic/driver, a business teacher, a special education teacher, a remedial math teacher, a Spanish teacher and a part time IT technician.

The purchase of nearly $450,000 in computer hardware and software is included in the budget, as is the purchase of two buses -- a 65 passenger and a 30 passenger. While funding is included in the budget to pay for the two buses, the merged district is eligible for 90 percent state reimbursement on bus purchase costs.

The 2013-14 budget also allocates $480,000 for district reserves.

Polls are open from 12 Noon-8 p.m. at the David H. Robbins Elementary School in St. Johnsville.

At Fort Plain, those voting may be asked to take a voluntary exit poll, asking whether district residents think that a merger study between Fort Plain and Canajoharie should be pursued. While the board discussed this possibility in open session during their last regular meeting, it was undecided at the time the C-S-E went to press if the exit poll will take place, although Fort Plain Superintendent Douglas Burton noted Wednesday morning that although Canajoharie Central School has decided not to partake in the poll, it's a distinct possibility that FPCS still might. A decision regarding the poll should be made by Monday, Burton noted.