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Johnstown School Board Considers Next Steps After Budget Defeat

The Johnstown Board of Education
Lucas Willard
The Johnstown Board of Education

Upset parents and students attended last night’s Greater Johnstown School District Board of Education meeting after a district budget vote failed Tuesday.

In Johnstown, in New York’s Fulton County, the school budget proposal with a 35 percent tax increase fell short of the 60 percent supermajority approval in Tuesday’s district election. Of 2,297 votes cast, a simple majority was reached — by only three votes.

A 60 percent supermajority was required because the increase was above the allowable 14.9 percent tax levy increase from the state.

The district had warned that without the increase in funding, sports, music, and other programs would be eliminated.

Jacob Frenyea, representing the Johnstown student body, spoke to the board Wednesday night. 

“It pains me to think about the empty Friday nights at Knox Field next year, and how the Johnstown Performing Arts Center, the very room we are in right now, will be songless come next year,” said Frenyea.

Nicole Hollister was one of the many concerned parents attending the meeting. She worries about the potential elimination of advanced placement programs.

“So I had a son graduate in 2013, top of his class. And without AP classes he would not have gotten a great education. If you think without AP any NESCAC school or Ivy League school will look at our school, you’re delusional,” said Hollister.

Johnstown superintendent Dr. Patricia Kilburn said the district was not eyeing the elimination of AP classes.

Dr. Kilburn said the board’s decision to pursue a budget with a 35 percent tax levy increase was one of several options, based on long-term projections.

“The board wanted to see if they could try doing 6 percent in a row for five or six years, but in order to do it they would have to cut $3 million out of the budget, which is cutting all the programs we’re talking about now. And the other option was to try to do 14 percent every year for five or six years in a row and do less cuts, and they felt that would be really be difficult for taxpayers to continue to go out every time for 14,” said Kilburn.

District resident Harry Brand, who voted against the budget, urged the school board to come together to find a solution to prevent the elimination of programs. The district is allowed to hold a second budget vote.

“No one says it’s not going to pass this next time. I understand what was presented in the handout said ‘If it fails a second time.’ And odds are, we all know it’s going to pass a second time. So why are we telling our kids it’s done? Why put them through that stress? There’s no reason for it,” said Brand.

There was also harsh language from budget supporters directed at those who voted against it. Chris Tallon was elected to the school board on Tuesday in the district that serves about 1,800 students.

“I would ask that we all take this unfortunate situation as one of life’s many lessons. Often some of our greatest successes come on the heels of our greatest failures. Make no mistake about it, this is our district’s biggest failure,” said Tallon.

School board president Kathy Dougherty says more discussion will continue in upcoming budget workshops. She doesn’t believe Johnstown will pursue a contingency budget that would eliminate all non-mandated programs. 

“That’s never been our intention. Some districts will put the same budget up for a second vote. I don’t believe we’ll do that because we heard clearly from the public that we didn’t meet the supermajority. So we will look at somewhere between the number we proposed last night and a contingency budget,” said Dougherty.

A second budget vote is scheduled for June 18th.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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