Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Thanks for your support!

On behalf of the Board of Education and myself, I thank everyone who participated in the school budget vote and Board of Education election on May 20.

I am grateful for a community that remains supportive of our schools despite the ongoing fiscal struggles presented by escalating costs and declining revenues. In recent years, we have had to make tough decisions to balance our budgets, while balancing our responsibilities to students and remaining mindful of our taxpayers.

I thank our educators and support staff for their commitment to our students and our educational program. In approving the school budget, the community has demonstrated that they value your hard work and dedication, and support our district’s mission to inspire, challenge and educate every student, every day.

I thank the Board of Education for developing a balanced budget that maintains educational programs for our students. This budget represents the first time in recent years that we haven’t needed to make any cuts to programs or staff. Still, it is disappointing not to be able to restore opportunities that provide our students the well-rounded school experience they deserve.  

My gratitude to Assemblyman John McDonald, as well, for his support of our schools. He continues to be in our corner advocating for our schools and working tirelessly to restore state education funding. His presence at board meetings and budget workshops this past spring demonstrates his commitment to our schools and to a strong public education system.

Thanks to everyone who helped get the “message out,” reminding people to vote and supporting our budget process throughout the past year. Our poll workers also deserve thanks, as do the students who volunteered to work our first exit poll, results of which will be shared in the coming weeks.

Going forward, we must continue to work together to come up with solutions that will meet our district goals and mission and that will continue to earn the support of our community.

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!