Board approves 2015-2016 proposed budget

Business manager Kim Brumley presented a revised budget for the Greater Amsterdam School District to the board of education Wednesday, reducing the proposed tax levy for the 2015-16 school year from 3.2 percent to 2 percent.

This means that taxpayers in the City and Town of Amsterdam and the Town of Florida will see an increase in property taxes of $110.15 for a home with a value of $100,000.

Without increasing the district’s tax levy, residents would have seen an increase of $68.61 for a home with a value of $100,000 due to a $41 million decrease in taxable assessed property value in the City of Amsterdam.

Brumley was able to reduce the tax levy by reducing the proposed budget by $167,255 and applying $40,000 from the fund balance to the budget.

Under the proposed budget, programs and staff will be maintained at their current levels, although the district faces the prospect of having to add five English as a Second Language certified teachers under new state guidelines. The district will see 10 teachers retire this year, resulting in what Brumley referred to as “breakage.” This means that teachers at the end of their careers typically earn more than teachers who are just starting out.

The “breakage” that the district will see from the ten retirements will cover the salaries of their replacements as well as the salaries for two of the ESL certified teachers. The other three ESL certified teachers will be funded through budget increases.

In addition to a contractual increase in the cost of salaries, the budget also features a sizable increase in the cost of BOCES services. Because the board of education was uncomfortable with the initially proposed 3.2 percent tax levy increase, Brumley spoke to department directors and Superintendent Thomas Perillo to try to identify areas which could be trimmed from the budget.

One of the challenges was to replace $167,255 in funding that was made available for only one year through a Strengthening Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Dissemination grant. The grant covered the salaries of data coaches, curriculum leaders, technology leaders, and a clerical person. It also covered stipends for the data coaches to cover the extra time spent working before and after school, as well as the board’s membership in the New York State School Board Association. Since the grant funding will not be available next year, the positions were added to the general fund.

The purpose of the positions is to collect data from assessments given to students in order to analyze the students’ knowledge in a given area.

According to Robert Mark, the director of elementary instruction, “With the data coaches there is an element where, not only are we able to look at data in a larger sense, but we can look at what is a specific skill and where are students falling within that skill.”

From there, teachers work with students one on one based on their individual needs. Mark said, “We can say this is a student who needs work in a particular skill area and have them with this person and another group go with another person.”

Michelle Downing, director of data and personnel, added that after students have been re-taught through these groups, they retake the assessment that they did poorly on. Through data collection, she has observed vast improvements, with students sometimes doing 30 percent better the second time.

In revising the proposed budget, Downing, Mark, and Susan Stoya, director of secondary instruction, determined that they should be able to obtain new grants or shift funds from other STLE grants that the district already has to cover the salaries for the positions.

Brumley said that she is 95 percent certain that they will succeed in using grants to cover the costs, and that, if they are unable to do so, they could cut the stipends, the NYSSBA membership, and the clerical position. The remaining cost would be covered by $40,000 being applied to the budget from the district’s fund balance, and the rest would come from funds which had been allocated for professional development.

Vice President of the board, Gavin Murdoch, supported saving the data coaches, noting that it offers the district a valuable resource in coming into compliance with the Common Core. He said, “Without this, we’re going to be in the same boat we were in the first time we took the test. ‘Oh, how come…?’ Well, we shouldn’t be in the boat and say ‘How come?’ We should be able to say this is the reason why and this is what we can do to fix it.”

Board member Robert Vennett voiced his opinion that the school district needs to develop exit strategies when implementing programs that are funded through short term grants, rather than trying to sustain them beyond the time when they are fully funded.

The board of education voted 4-3 in favor of the proposed budget. A public hearing will be held May 5 at 6 p.m. in the Amsterdam High School Media Center, and the budget vote will take place on May 19.

Ashley Onyon

Ashley Onyon is a graduate of the journalism program at SUNY Albany. She has contributed articles to The Mohawk Valley Independent and the annual journal Upstream.