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Community conversation will help S-GI board of education answer tough questions about bleak 2014-201 budget

SPRINGVILLE — The fifth time was the charm for the Springville-Griffith school district community budget conversation.

The 2014-15 Budget Preparation Community Conversation brought together district stakeholders in an open invitation to voice concerns regarding district finances. The board of education called for public input, as it begins to craft a budget for the upcoming year. The meeting, held the evening of Feb. 4 in the S-GI Middle School cafeteria, had been canceled four times since early January, due to weather.

Superintendent Paul Connelly said the conversation was important to the school board and administration, as it “will inform the budget development process, as we move through our deliberations.”

“It’s about us hearing you,” he added, “[and] what you think is most important for S-GI.”

During the conversation, approximately two dozen participants seated themselves at various tables, each facilitated by a board of education member. Discussions addressed aspects of the district’s budget that may be cut, protected, added or enhanced, in the areas of instructional programs; extracurricular activities and facilities, operations and management.

Many participants wanted to retain instructional programs in art, music and other electives, while offering instruction in technology and industrial arts. Combining electives and a more frugal approach to technology were suggested, as ways to save funds.

The Board of Cooperative Educational Services was mentioned, as an important source for hands-on learning for students, although there were concerns about associated costs.

Currently, the district shares some bookkeeping and other services with BOCES. In-house accounting and staff development – rather than contracting with BOCES – were marked as potential savings. Maintenance and updating of facilities were generally seen as important, while the district’s two law firms and the school resource officer were mentioned as possible cuts.

Throughout the night, participants brought up community involvement with the district as a way to save money and give students a well-rounded education. Springville Youth Inc., for example, might be relied on to provide some sports programs potentially cut by the district, while partnerships with local businesses and organizations might give students the opportunity for hands-on learning.

A number of suggestions focused on sports: scaling back on league games, reducing the number of teams – particularly modified and junior varsity teams – sharing travel between teams and eliminating of assistant coaching positions were brought forward.

After the evening’s program concluded, the highlights of each conversation were collected for compilation by the district clerk. The board will use the resulting document during their budget deliberations.

Connelly was straightforward with his bleak assessment of the district’s upcoming budgets.

“This year is a scary year,” said the superintendent, “because next year is a more frightening year. And we have got to look at not only this year, but next year and the year after that. Next year is going to be very, very difficult, and I’m fearful for that year, unquestionably. We have spent down our reserves as best as we possibly can. We have needs for a capital project. We have facilities that are failing. We have infrastructure that is failing. We have roofs that are failing. We’re in a tight spot, folks.”

Connelly placed some of the blame on a tightening state tax cap, which stands at less than 1.5 percent. “This year, our 2 percent cap is 1.467 percent. It’s not 2 percent. Last year, our tax cap was 2.99 percent,” he added.

In her remarks, Board President Delia Bonenberger focused on the Gap Elimination Adjustment – a stopgap budgetary program created by New York state in 2009-10 that reduces aid to schools.

“Funds are scarce,” said the board president. “And one of the problems in our state – a major one – is something called the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which was put into place a number of years ago and steadily decreased state aid, over time.”

Bonenberger said the program has cost the district “millions and millions” in state aid. She encouraged members of the public to sign a petition to end the program, a copy of which is available on S-GI’s website.

The board will meet for its next official meeting on Feb. 11, at 7 p.m., in the S-GI High School library, located at 290 North Buffalo St. in Springville.

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