School board expects spending increase next year

I t’s shaping up to be a bumpy holiday season for administrators at Whitehall Central School.

Although the district is two months away from releasing their first preliminary budget, Superintendent James Watson said officials are staring at an 8.6 percent increase already.

“I’d love to paint you a happy picture, but I can’t do,” Watson said.

The district is expected to lose a source of federal funding and it’s doubtful the state will replace those funds.

The loss of the federal monies alone is expected to create a six percent shortfall in this year’s budget.

Add to that the expected increases in health care costs and pensions and the district is eyeing an 8.6 percent increase before taking into consideration the rest of the budget.

Those problems are made worse by the fact the district was compelled to dip into their fund balance during last year’s budgeting process.

“The reserves are down after last year,” Watson said. “There’s no wiggle room there.”

The district will also have to deal with Governor Cuomo’s two-percent tax cap which for schools would require 60 percent of the voters to approve any budget that calls for an increase greater than two percent, or the rate of inflation, whichever is less (currently the rate of inflation is greater than two percent).

Watson said the district is keeping its options open and didn’t shut the door on presenting a budget greater than two percent to the public.

That being said, the districts initial budget last year called for a 22 percent increase and administrators were able to whittle that down to about two-percent in the final budget so it’s probable that the 8.6 percent figure will prove to be rather fluid in the coming months.

Administrators expect to release their first preliminary budget in December and will have several months to work on it before presenting it to the public next May.

In other matters, Watson told the board they will have to consider how they would like to address the expected vacancy created when member George Armstrong becomes is sworn into office as town supervisor in January.

Armstrong is running unopposed for town supervisor.

Under municipal home rule, town supervisor is the only elected official who cannot also serve on the school board.

Watson told the board they have three options: they can do nothing and Armstrong’s seat would remain vacant until the school board election in May, at which point the third highest vote getter (there are two openings on the board this spring) would serve the remainder of Armstrong’s term.

The board could chose to appoint someone to fill the vacancy until the election in May at which time the third highest vote getter would serve the remainder of the term.

Or the board could hold a special election between not and the time of the resignation and the winner would fill the rest of Armstrong’s term. However, holding a special election would cost the board money in advertising and the rental of polling equipment.

Armstrong was elected to a five year term last May. When he resigns there will be approximately four years and four months left on his term.

The board is expected to make a decision at either their November or December board meeting.

Prior to the start of the regular meeting, the board held a special public hearing to discuss a proposal to use no more than $16,000 from the Repair Reserve Fund to make necessary repairs to the boilers in the Junior/Senior  High School.

Watson said the total amount for repairs was $14,156 and the fund from which the money would be drawn is used explicitly for repairs to school infrastructure.

No one from the public chose to speak on the matter and the board approved the proposal.

 

The board also made a pair of decisions regarding recreational activities offered through the school.

They approved a resolution to continue the Ski Club, a program that has been offered for more than 25 years, and voted to cut short the Adult Swim program by a month.

Board member Adam Mickel argued that although the ski club was a recreational activity, that it was valuable as a lifelong skill.

“I see value to it as a lifelong recreational activity and life skill,” Mickel said.

The cost of the program is $2200 not including the cost of gas and mileage.

The Swim Club will be held from Thanksgiving to Easter Recess instead of November until May, cutting the program by a month and saving the school about $400.

High school principal Kelly McHugh said officials have rescheduled an Honor Society Inductions ceremony to 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28. It had previously been scheduled for Oct. 26 but conflicted with a girl’s soccer game.

Whitehall PTA advisor Christopher Palmer presented Board of Education members with certificates for their service as part of School Board Appreciation Week.

 

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