While most extracurricular activities such as sports programs and the marching band will be funded in the 2020-2021 budget proposed by the Greater Amsterdam School District Board of Education, it’s still an open question as to whether these activities will even be allowed in the next school year.
The Center for Disease Control’s guidelines for schools to re-open paints a rather bleak picture of what needs to be done in schools to maintain social distancing. Current guidelines call for a three-step process for returning to near-normalcy, with step one including the recommendation to “cancel all field trips, inter-group events, and extracurricular activities” and steps two and three recommending to “limit gatherings, events, and extracurricular activities to those that can maintain social distancing, support proper hand hygiene, and restrict attendance of those from higher transmission areas.”
I have to wonder: how will Amsterdam’s traditional “Friday night lights” at Lynch fit that criteria?
While these guidelines are not laws, school officials will have to at least consider them. And we still don’t know when Governor Andrew Cuomo will give the final OK to re-open schools. His recent comments about “re-imagining” schools drew criticism from teachers unions and education advocacy organizations as he seemed to question the very concept of in-person teaching given the rise of online learning during the recent school closures.
When reached for comment on the matter earlier this week, Colleen DiCaprio, business manager for the district, replied:
At this point in time, we have no clear directive from the governor whether or not these activities will be restricted due to COVD-19. It is our hope for the students that they will be allowed to continue as they have missed much. If they are approved, it will be under the health department and governor’s orders and guidelines on how we proceed. We put in a budget that was based on what we know as of now and plans are to continue with extracurriculars – sports (with a small budgetary cut for 2020-2021) and clubs. It is our intention to move forward as if school opens in the fall with contingencies for alternates should the governor instruct us differently.
The proposed budget calls for a 3% tax levy increase to help cover expected shortfalls in aid from New York State due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If the budget doesn’t pass, there will be no tax increase, however the district will be short by $626,255 and would have to cut all non-contingent expenses, including sports and other extracurricular activities.
As a parent of four children in the school system, with one in particular sorely missing after school sports and playing in the band, I think it’s best to have the funding for extra curricular activities rather than not to have it. If some activities have to be cancelled or limited, hopefully the unused funds would be saved to offset next year’s taxes.
Overall, I think the school board has done their job to keep the tax increase as low as possible. The proposed budget reduces spending by $1.3 million compared to 2019-20020 and eliminates a total of 29 full and part time positions. The budget also proposes appropriating $2.5 million from the district’s fund balance.
It’s worth noting that due to equalization, only the City of Amsterdam will see an actual increase in taxes. While that’s generally a good sign as to the relative strength of city property values compared to the surrounding towns, some might feel like it’s not fair, similar to when the same thing happened with our county taxes a year ago. But – frankly – there’s nothing we can do about that. According to GASD, the increase works out to about $107.72 extra per year for a home assessed at $100,000.
District residents should be getting mail-in ballots to vote on the 2020-2021 Greater Amsterdam School District budget, propositions, and school board candidates this week. When you get one, be sure to fill it out and drop it off at any of the six school locations before June 9. You can mail them back, but they must be received before June 16, and the postmark date doesn’t count.
Also on the ballot are candidates running for three positions opening on the school board. The candidates are incumbents Dr. Nellie Bush, Rev. Kent McHeard, Deana Mancini, and newcomers Thomas J. Coughlin, Jr. and James P. Walrath. There are also three additional propositions, you can read more about them on the district’s website.
(Photos by Tim Becker)