Monday, May 12, 2014

Remember to vote Tuesday, May 20

The annual school budget vote and school board election will take place on Tuesday, May 20 from noon to 9 p.m. during which Watervliet voters will consider a $24.95 million budget for 2014-15 that preserves our educational mission and bears a tax levy increase within the district’s tax levy “cap.”

Budget proposal maintains status quo: no cuts, no restorations 

 When we first began developing the 2014-15 school budget earlier this year, the Board of Education and I anticipated having to find a way to close a six-figure budget gap based on state aid projections within the governor’s proposed executive budget.

Faced with an $860,000 deficit, I braced for yet another round of difficult, if not impossible, fiscal choices—continued downsizing of staff and/or further reductions in non-mandated programs and services—while remaining mindful of student needs and community concerns. With a program that is arguably bare bones now, I was dreading the decisions that would need to be made.

 Thanks to some widespread advocacy efforts made by concerned stakeholders from school districts across the state—including our own—legislators took notice and injected some additional aid for education in their state budget proposals. As a result, once the state’s budget was finalized on April 1, it included an increase in school aid, which put Watervliet in a fairly better position than we had originally expected and will spare us from having to make cuts to staff or programs in 2014-15.

Still, after four consecutive years of reductions in aid, this increase does not afford any restorations to programs or opportunities for students that have been reduced or eliminated, nor does it allow us to replenish any of the 25 positions that have been reduced in recent years.

Given the fiscal struggles we have faced during the past several budget cycles, however, being able to maintain the status quo is a welcome reprieve.  


Could state funding be used to restore programs or staff instead of an artificial turf field and track?

The new track and field that are being constructed at the Jr./Sr. High School campus are without question the most visible renovation occurring within our Phase IV facilities project. The project, approved by voters in 2011, is being funded through a combination of state building aid and Qualified Construction Bonds that our district was eligible to receive.

Some have asked during budget workshops this spring, if the district could use that funding, which is provided by the state, to restore teaching positions and programs. The answer is no; state building aid is prescriptive, meaning the district is not allowed to use it on anything other than construction and renovations. Watervliet receives state building aid reimbursement of 93.5 cents per dollar spent on the Phase IV project. The balance of the project is offset with Qualified School Construction Bonds, a state-sponsored funding program that was available for a limited time to only 30 districts in the state, Watervliet being one.

Because state building aid can be used only to pay for “brick and mortar” projects, it cannot be used for operational costs, such as staffing or instructional programs. Still, when this opportunity to secure funding became available, we sought to take advantage of it and address existing structural needs and also make improvements to our facilities that will benefit our students and our community for years to come.  

Two polling locations this year

Remember that voting will take place on Tuesday, May 20 from noon to 9 p.m. at two polling sites in the city this year: the Watervliet Elks Lodge at 501 4th Avenue and the Watervliet Elementary School at 2557 Tenth Avenue.

If you did not have a chance to attend our budget workshops in March and April, please plan to attend the district’s public budget hearing on Tuesday, May 13 at 7 p.m. in the WJSHS conference room to learn more about the proposed plan.

And finally, every resident of this community 18 and older has a voice in the funding and elected leadership of our school district. Whether you’ve been voting for years or will cast your first ballot on May 20, whatever your opinion may be, I encourage you to vote. Please make an informed decision by learning as much about the proposed budget as possible before you head to your polling location. Visit the district's budget web page and read the budget newsletter, which residents should have received recently in the mail. All provide detailed information about the proposed 2014-15 school budget and its impact on our schools and community. Every vote matters!

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