By Jann Wiswall
The Ellicottville School Board and the District’s administrative leaders gathered at the school on Tuesday, May 10 for a public hearing to explain the 2016-17 budget. The three candidates running for two school board posts also attended the hearing and made brief statements.
Three school district residents attended the hearing.
As District Superintendent Mark Ward quipped, “if no one’s here, it’s probably good news because then no one has complaints. If there’s a crowd, you know there’s an issue!”
Ward began the presentation with a summary of some of the school’s achievements over the past year, listing the completion of the new multi-purpose gym and the students’ embrace of the new space as the highlight. He also pointed to the growth and successes of the school athletic programs and the positive impact of West Valley athletes on the school. He noted a number of impressive academic achievements by several student clubs and teams. And he applauded the professionalism and performance levels of the music, theater and other arts programs.
The budget challenge for 2016-17 starts with the fact that there is virtually no new money coming to the school from the state or property taxes. But there is also less “loss” since the state is ending the “Gap Elimination Adjustment” that took funds away from schools across the country. The state also increased the school’s Foundation Aid. As described in an article by Ward in the school’s newsletter, this results in a “net overall increase in state aid” of about $104,000, or about 3 percent.
Ward’s article also points out that, “while the tax cap is a great way to control property taxes, it does have some consequences that will make it difficult to operate our school in the future….The annual allowable tax levy imposed by our state tax cap is based upon the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or 2 percent, whichever is less. The allowable tax growth factor for 2016-17 is calculated as .12 percent. Last year, this limit was 1.62 percent, the prior year it was 1.46 percent, and three years ago the limit was two percent. For Ellicottville, that means we will be able to raise an additional $8,257 in property tax revenue.”
With that said, Ward noted that the school must and will continue to invest in its students, and technology has to be the focus. The school plans to invest $75-80,000 in technology, which includes the purchase of new laptops for students in grades 7-9 and new learning management system software packages. In addition, the school was approved for the state’s SmartBond grant, which will allow the school to purchase an additional $200k in new projectors, touch screens, whiteboards and televisions for the entire school.
In addition, the board has budgeted to pay for the tuition and books associated with students who take college courses at ECS and several new college courses will be offered, including Economics through Syracuse University and pre-calculus with Jamestown Community College.
District Treasurer Aimee Kilby then took the podium to walk the audience through budget specifics, explaining a number of charts that detail revenues from all sources and expenses related to instruction, employee benefits, central services, support services, operation and management, pupil transportation, debt service, interfund transfer and BOCES services (budget detail in chart and narrative form appears in the May 2016 Ellicottville Central School Newsletter, which can be found online at www.ellicottvillecentral.com).
Total expenditures match revenues of $11,903,306, she said, compared to last year’s budget of $11,620,182.
In addition to the above, the board proposes to lease two 66 passenger buses at a cost of $32,000.
Ward closed the hearing by saying that “the board has done a good job keeping the budget tight.” He encouraged voters to cast their ballots on the budget and the school board candidates on Tuesday, May 17. A sample ballot is provided for your interest.