Weekly Feature

2018-03-14 / Local News

Amherst Central Schools’ budget gap decreases

by PATRICK J. NAGY Reporter

The Amherst Central schools are looking at a $1 million budget gap for the 2018-19 school year.

The gap was $2.1 million at the Dec. 19 Board of Education meeting and lowered to $1.6 million at the Feb. 13 meeting. School Business Administrator Laura Bosinski said at the March 6 meeting that the gap was narrowed further through spending reductions.

Approximately $325,000 was saved due to the retirement breakage of six teachers, meaning the difference between the salaries of the retirees compared to the salaries of incoming employees.

Another $106,000 was saved in the business office when an employee retired and that person’s duties were allocated to other employees. The special education office was also restructured when an employee left the district and the position was not refilled, resulting in a savings of $57,000. Changes were also made in special education in required programming for students, resulting in a savings of $88,000.

Another $264,000 was saved through staff reductions, which Bosinski said was based on student enrollment, programming needs and attrition. Most of the staff reductions are expected to be at the elementary school level.

One full-time equivalent general education teacher at Smallwood Drive Elementary and another Windermere Boulevard Elementary position were not filled due to retirements.

A 0.2 FTE art teacher, 0.5 FTE general education teacher aide, and a 0.25 FTE physical education teacher aide at Windermere are proposed for elimination.

Other reductions include two 0.5 FTE special education teachers and two 0.5 FTE special education teacher assistants at Windermere and Smallwood Drive, 1.0 FTE general education teacher assistant at the middle school and 0.5 FTE clerk typist at the high school.

Two FTE special education teacher aides are also expected to be eliminated, and two 1.0 FTE special education teacher aide positions are projected to be reduced to 0.5 FTE positions. The buildings where the aides are located have not been identified.

Bosinski said the strength and conditioning program will be changed to an interactive program using technology and district athletic coaches, resulting in a savings of approximately $10,000.

Intramurals will still be offered at the high school but the sessions will be reduced from nine to six, resulting in a savings of approximately $6,000.

There is also a reduction in the materials and supplies budget of $5,000 for each building and department (high school, middle school, Smallwood, Windermere, athletics and buildings and grounds), resulting in a budget reduction of $30,000.

Bosinski said the only new change in revenues for the 2018-19 budget was an increase in interest earnings from $18,000 to $100,000 based on recent meetings with the district’s banks.

Superintendent Anthony Panella said the district is still awaiting final state aid figures.

Total spending is projected to increase 2.14 percent from $57.3 million to $58.5 million for 2018-19, largely due to increases for health insurance, contributions to the teacher retirement system (9.8 to 10.63 percent) and contractual obligations for personnel.

The employee retirement system rate for 2018-19 is 14.9 percent, which is down from 15.3 percent in 2017-18. Bosinski said the rate decrease, along with reductions in projected salary increases, allows the budget to budget expenditure to remain relatively flat, yielding a savings of approximately $10,000.

BOCES is projected to increase 11 percent, and 2 percent in following years, mainly due to increases in student programming in occupational education, alternative education, and special education placements and services. Total spending is expected to increase from $58.5 million to $60.5 million in 2019-20 and to $62.7 million in 2020-21.

Other ways the budget gap could be closed are by increases in state aid, additional staff reductions, and increasing surplus or reserves aside from the $500,000 the district moved to offset the ensuing year’s budget.

Revenues for 2018-19 are relatively flat and are projected to increase only $174,000, from $57.3 million to $57.4 million, or 0.30 percent.

The tax levy is projected to increase from $34.9 million to $35.8 million, an increase of 2.54 percent. The board has agreed to stay within the tax cap. For 2018-19, total state aid is projected to increase from $15.2 million to $15.3 million.

Revenues are also projected to increase from $57.4 million to $58.8 million for 2019-20, and to $60.3 million for 2020-21. At the March 20 meeting, the board will discuss its tolerance for how much surplus and reserves to appropriate to lower the budget gap.

In another matter, the high school presented its strategic plan to the board.

One area that has helped address the learning and achievement priority portion of the plan is the use of the “flipped classroom,” where students prepare for class by participating in online class activities before class, practice applying key concepts with feedback during class, and checking their understanding and extending their learning after class.

The “flipped classroom” allows more concept practice in the classroom; a student does not fall behind in class; it can be used for review for a unit test or the end of year for a final exam; the continuity of content can assist a substitute teacher; special education teachers, parents and tutors have access; and it allows more time to address different learning styles.

Jenny Koeppel, a high school algebra teacher, said the “flipped classroom” model allows the student to be at the center of instruction instead of the teacher and to take ownership of how to watch a video or take notes, ask for help and work together on classwork.

“The teacher is the facilitator and makes sure everything is working around them in a way that really helps them understand,” she said.

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