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SCHOOL BUDGET HIKES SPENDING, BOOSTS TAX LEVY

Taxpayers in the Springville Griffith-Institute Central School District next year face an average 3.52 percent increase in the tax levy under a $22.36 million budget adopted Wednesday night by the Board of Education in a 6-1 vote.

Trustees approved the 1998-99 budget, which boosts spending by 4.15 percent, or $890,319, more than the district's 1997-98 spending plan. Trustee David Bulges cast the sole no vote, saying he felt more cuts could have been made without affecting student programming.

Under the budget presented by Business Administrator William D. Loockerman, spending increases were trimmed significantly, since the instructional portion had initially been pegged for a 6.37 percent increase. That has been pared to a 4.75 percent increase.

The final revisions translate into an average tax rate of $20.09 per $1,000 of assessed valuation -- up 38 cents from last year's average rate of $19.71. Nine municipalities comprise the school district, and tax rates will vary depending on towns and equalization rates.

Public hearings on the budget will be held May 5 at Colden Elementary School, May 6 at the district's offices on Newman Street and May 7 at the Collins Center Fire Hall, all at 7:30 p.m. The vote will be held from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 19 in each of the three voting districts.

"We're trying to be as frugal and conservative, wherever possible," Superintendent Thomas J. Markle said, noting that staff doesn't want to overestimate revenues. "We don't want to go out there with a tax rate that's going to make taxpayers balk and want to lynch all of us."

Loockerman noted that he has "cut the budget down to the bone on utilities" and said that budget line could fall short if next winter is a hard one.

Still, Bulges criticized salary increases for top administrators. Markle is slated to receive a 1.1 percent increase that would bring his salary to $97,000 under his already negotiated contract; and Loockerman's pay would increase by an estimated $4,604 or 5 percent to $96,668 for next year. But Loockerman said the salary amount is still under discussion.

"I don't want to see any program knocked out, so we can give big raises," Bulges said." The budget contains several new teacher hires, as well as a director of instruction position -- a new job in the district that previously was pegged at a $75,000 salary when it was earlier approved by the board. Other staff additions include a high school science teacher; a middle school science teacher and a social studies teacher; increasing a half-time to full-time reading teacher at Colden Elementary, and increasing clerical staff there by 40 percent; increasing from half to full-time library assistant at Springville Elementary School, and an additional teaching assistant for reading at Springville Elementary; two special education teachers in the primary grades and three special education teaching assistants.

The budget also contains a 3 percent salary increase for teachers.

State aid is expected to total $12.06 million, up by $481,070 over the current year.

No major program changes were made, except for the board's decision, in a 6-1 vote, to eliminate the enriched arts and education programming run through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services at Colden Elementary School and shifting it to the Middle School as a cost-cutting move that school officials say would still ensure that all students eventually benefit. Some of it had already been at the Middle School.

The compromise was reached to save money -- about $7,000 of the roughly $14,000 total program cost. The program is in addition to the district's normal art and music curriculum.

Markle warned the board that if that program had totally been cut, it probably would never be put back into future budgets. The program, now to be totally centered at the Middle School, is to be re-evaluated next year.

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