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Springville-Griffith Institute board holding the line on 2014-15 budget

SPRINGVILLE —The Springville-Griffith Institute Board of Education heard from Business Administrator Ted Welch during its Feb. 26 meeting, in the first of three presentations outlining the projected school budget for 2014-15.

“I’m not as concerned about 2014-15,” Welch said. “What I am concerned about is 2015-16.” He said that programs like the recent retirement incentive, “while bittersweet” have had a “tremendous impact” on the school’s budget numbers and that health insurance costs came in lower than he had expected, which also helped.

“We’re holding the line on everything we can hold the line on, except that which is beyond our control,” added Superintendent Paul Connelly.

Among the budget numbers presented, Welch said that the board of education operating costs will increase 20 percent, largely because the annual conference is being held in New York City this year, a more expensive venue than in the past. The district clerk’s costs will only increase .43 percent.

“I’ve always told Kathy [Tucker] she’s a cheap date,” Welch joked, about the clerk’s costs.

The superintendent’s costs will go up 5.8 percent, to bring Connelly’s salary up to the contractual level. The superintendent has voluntarily withheld raises for his own paycheck, for the past few years.

The treasurer will cost 70 percent more, since Welch recommended that person take on more hours, to get the job done.

He did recommend, however, that the tax collector position, which had been contracted out, be performed in-house, to save 15 percent on the budget and eliminate wasted time, during which that person was “essentially just waiting around.

“[Tax number] reconciliation has to be done outside the work day anyway,” Welch explained. “When they’re not busy, that person can be doing other tasks.”

He also recommended that in-person tax collection be eliminated, since it is not done in any other district.

“I think our customer service will be just fine,” he noted.

He also highlighted the flat figure in legal fees, which was not used at all, this past year.

“The year before I first got here, in 2007-08, the district paid almost $500,000 in legal fees,” Welch said. “Our figures now come from a self-reliant superintendent, who isn’t running to the attorney all the time. We used to be Hodgson-Russ’s favorite client. I think we’ve fallen out of favor with them, because we’re not calling as much.”

The total operations budget has fallen 6.3 percent, since the maintenance department has cut down on overtime and brought in new employees at a lower pay scale, to replace older, higher-grade employees who left or retired.

The Board of Cooperative Education Services fee will increase 21.27 percent, for a capital project and facility updates at the BOCES locations. Connelly explained that this cost was expected, since all participating districts agreed to contribute it, this year.

“I’ve toured their facilities, and the updates really are necessary,” Connelly explained. “This number isn’t a surprise.”

District transportation will increase 4.6 percent, and Welch said the district is pleased with how the new model, enacted at the beginning of this year, has been working, so far.

“Its not quite there yet, but it’s getting there,” he said.

One practice Welch said he wanted the district to look at is daily passes for students to ride different routes, as needed or requested.

“We’re basically acting as a taxi service,” Welch said. “Someday, we’re going to lose a kid and that kid is going to get hurt. Most districts allow a primary and a secondary drop-off point, and that’s something I’d like us to consider. We’ve got to get out of taxi service mode.”

The board agreed to discuss the issue, at a later date.

In other transportation costs, Welch proposed a referendum to replace two 21-passenger buses and four 66-passenger buses. He also proposed replacing a technology truck that is currently in poor shape with a 21-passenger bus that must be retired, to save the cost of purchasing a new bus. A full-sized bus that is at retirement age will be repurposed as a maintenance truck, with the seats removed. This will save the district the cost of replacing those vehicles, as well.

In summary, that portion of the budget is expected to increase $597,546, or 2.72 percent.

“This is just our first plunge into the budget,” Welch explained. “These numbers could still go down.”

He added that the property tax cap currently looks like it will be set at 2.26 percent, which is higher than the expected 1.46 percent, because of a capital project exclusion the state verified recently.

“I would like the board to reflect on whether or not to override that tax cap,” Welch said. “And know that this [tax cap number] is a little bit of good news, since we thought it would be significantly lower.”

In other board matters:

– The board approved a number of fundraising activities, including a number of lollipop sales, which Board Vice President Joan Kelly questioned.

“There’s a lot of lollipop sales, and I don’t want Michelle Obama to find out about that,” she said. “Is there some kind of alternative? It just seems like there’s a lot of candy floating around our schools.”

Connelly said he had questioned that, as well, and would keep it in mind.

The board also approved two propositions for the 2014 school budget vote and board member election, to increase the number of seats from five-seven and the terms of members from three-five years. Board Member Kara Kane voted against both motions.

“I strongly support [the number of members] and will do my utmost to make sure folks are well-informed,” Board Member Allison Duwe said. “I think, when the community voted to decrease the number of members, they were under the mistaken impression that we make a lot of money. I think seven folks can do more work and make better decisions, for everyone.”

Connelly noted that the motion, when it was brought to a vote, had passed 302-300.

Board President Delia Bonenberger also voiced her support of both propositions.

“I think that both together would provide a more stable board of education,” she said. “Three years is a short time. For the sake of the district, I think this would create a more stable situation, over time.”

Kelly noted that, when the term was decreased to three years, the reasoning had been that a shorter term would garner more applicants.

“That proved not to be true,” she said. “A great many school district terms are five years. I find that, by year three, you really get it. You really have an understanding of the district and its needs and how it operates. You evolve into the position and the sense of history.”

The board’s next meeting will be on March 11 at 7 p.m. in the S-GI High School’s library and media center. At that meeting, Welch plans to present the instructional potion of the budget.

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