G’town postpones details in school budget discussion

GERMANTOWN—The Board of Education of the Germantown Central School District started work on the 2013-14 budget last week.

May 14 is the date on which district voters will approve or reject a budget, and on January 23 it appeared that board will need the next three months to agree on a budget to put up for a vote.

Last year, voters nixed a $13.6 million budget with a tax levy increase of 5.2 %, well over the state-mandated limit of 2%. The failed plan called for spending $668,308 in reserve funds. The board then crafted a second budget of $13.7 million, with a tax levy increase of 1.75%, using $1 million in reserve funds; that plan was approved. At its July 11, 2012 meeting the board restored positions and programs it had previously cut.

This year the process again began with a PowerPoint presentation by Patrick Gabriel, now interim superintendent after his January 9 retirement. He started with the word “sustainability. “Those of you who have been here before are familiar with my uttering this word,” he said. “What it means is that you can’t develop school budgets prudently if you’re not looking down the road three or four years. But we haven’t been doing that. I’m hoping for guidelines from board on how to proceed.”

Mr. Gabriel did not get those guidelines; rather, the board insisted it needed input from “people in the building” before facing budget work that might cut the curriculum.

Mr. Gabriel’s presentation sketched seven “Basic Options” scenarios, beginning with “stay within the property tax levy limit for 2013-2014. Duplicate the 2012-2013 spending budget and use close to $1 million in fund balance.” The options continued without numbers, suggesting variations in the tax levy limit, spending and fund balance. The district currently has a fund balance of $1.7 million, which is held in various accounts, such as repairs.

Mr. Gabriel’s presentation ended with a question: “When will we re-define ourselves?”

“Whatever you do over next three or four years,” he said, “it should allow the district to get the big financial decisions out of the way for a while,” and, having done that, the district should begin to address what it will look like in future. I think the district has to change,” said Mr. Gabriel, “but I know there are others who don’t want it to.”

The board asked for curriculum “wish lists” from the superintendent, principals and teachers—without numbers—and set Wednesday, February 6, at 6 p.m. for a budget workshop.

In other business, the board:

—Thanked Mary Puskar for a donation of $5,000 for band instruments and Mathew C. Leinung for a donation of $250 in appreciation for the services of Daniel Galliher as assistant vocal director in a recent production of “A Tale of Two Cities.” Both donations were completely unexpected, said Mr. Gabriel, and made without fanfare. “We have talked about how gifted these two people are [Mr. Galliher and Sean Perry, both high school music teachers], and this caps off all of what we already know about them”

—Accepted a draft letter from Mr. Gabriel, proposed to go out to district parents and students, regarding cars parking and standing in the bus circle on the Route 9G side of the school building. The “No Parking” signs have been routinely ignored for years, limiting access for emergency vehicles and allowing for an unmonitored entrance to the building. The consensus of the board, said board president Eric Mortenson after the meeting, was that Mr. Gabriel should do whatever he believed was in the best security interests of the school. As of Tuesday Mr. Gabriel had not yet sent the letter, pending ironing out the details with district personnel

—Heard a presentation by Nate Zeitlin and Jesse Weiss about a homework help program for middle school students who live in the Maple Lane Mobile Home Park that straddles the Germantown and Red Hook school districts. The program is administered by the Trustee Leader Scholar Program at Bard College, where Mr. Weiss is a first-year student, and paid for with grants given to Bard. The program was scheduled to launch January 29. Five students had signed up from Germantown.

With parental consent, the school bus drops them off at St. John’s Church in Manorton Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There they get an hour of homework help with a trained Bard student and participate in bike building and theater arts workshops. Additional workshops are planned. “This is a great opportunity for Bard to get out into the community,” said Mr. Weiss, “and it won’t add anything to your budget”

—Set a special meeting for Wednesday, February 20 at 6 p.m. At that time representatives from BOCES Questar III will describe what BOCES can do to assist the district in its search for a superintendent, and what the search is like—committees, community input, interviews and, said Mr. Mortenson “how as a board to decide to go forward, whether with BOCES or another search agency.”

Wednesday, February 13 is the date of the regular school board meeting. Mr. Mortenson expected a 7 p.m. start time.

 

 

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