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April 18, 2022 - 8:00am

Grounds and emotional maintenance priorities for O-A, Pembroke school districts

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Editor's Note: The Batavian has reached out to all public school districts in Genesee County to check on how the budget season has been going so far. School district responses will be published as they are received.

While neither Oakfield-Alabama nor Pembroke school districts plan to eliminate any jobs, each would like to add at least one position, including a social worker and maintenance person, to the 2022-23 budget.

First up is Oakfield-Alabama Central School, which reports a tax levy “way under” the cap of 1.97 percent. With a proposed 2022-23 budget of $23,589,606, or a 10.45 percent increase, the district is looking at a 1.1 percent tax levy increase, Superintendent John Fisgus said.

Although expenses for this next year are “hard to manage and estimate at times,” the district has proposed adding three positions: one elementary school special education teacher, one maintenance worker and one guidance office secretary.

During the school board’s March 15 meeting, the need for a maintenance worker was reviewed and explained. There have been two grounds and one maintenance staff to tend to the district’s property, sports fields and building maintenance. The proposed additional position is “no reflection on staff,” Fisgus said, but is called for given the amount of work to be done. 

There are 70 acres to maintain and landscape, which gives each of the two grounds people 35 acres each. Adding a maintenance position would reduce that to about 23 acres each. Maintenance also does the winter snowplowing in addition to grooming the baseball and football fields and other outdoor areas, he said. This person would also serve as a backup for the existing staff. As it is, the district is down one grounds person, which will be replaced, he said.  

“I always thought the size of this district was small and rural, but wow, do we have land,” he said. “Especially with the capital project. We want to make sure our maintenance can keep up with the (work to be done). If someone called in … we’re very worried.”

The current staff has been doing “quite a bit of overtime” to get tasks done, Director of Facilities Jordan Yager said. “They’ve done an awesome job; they just can’t get to everything they need to get done.”

Hiring the additional position would cut down on overtime, he said. 

Good news for the district is a state aid boost of $1.5 million more or an 11 percent increase, Fisgus said. As for predicting future costs, “it's a guessing game when we don't know the outcome of the Governor's Budget,” he said. 

“With the increased costs of gasoline, electricity, and other utilities, we have to forecast out how much longer these increased expenses might continue,” he said. “The inflation rates along with the allowable levy growth factor play into our decision-making when calculating our expenditures.” 

Although revenues are up by $2,168,785 from this past year, he is concerned about Foundation Aid, which has tentatively reflected a decrease of about $100,000 from what the district expected, he said.

“That’s huge for a small rural school. We will need to wait and see what the Governor’s budget entails,” he said. “Our Board of Education is well informed to make the most appropriate and fiscally responsible decisions for our community. I praise their work and commitment to our students, staff, teachers, administrators, and school community. It also helps to have the best Business Adminstrator around to navigate these waters.”

This year’s budget ballot will include a proposition to add a student representative to the Board of Education in 2023. Fisgus is “excited for the opportunity” to have a student on the board, he said. Student ex-officios provide input and updates from the student community, and typically do not vote on district matters. 

“We will have a separate proposition on the ballot for our community to vote on this,” he said.

Pembroke Central School does not have a proposed budget as of yet, Superintendent Matthew Calderon said. District officials usually recommend a tax levy increase of about 2 percent, even though “there are times when the tax cap is far above that,” he said.

Since the tax cap formula includes a calculation for a capital outlay project, he is proceeding with caution before determining a tax levy and related increase or decrease.

“We are waiting for the state budget to pass to determine whether or not we can include a capital outlay project in the proposed budget. That decision will affect our final allowable tax cap and is to be determined,” he said. 

Total expenses are also to be determined, he said,given that “there are expenses that are out of our control.” Those expenses include the rising costs for utilities and health insurance, “which limits our capacity to expand programs for students.”

An increase in state aid, based on the governor’s initially proposed budget, was not enough to cover the district’s preliminary budget, Calderon said. That may mean some belt-tightening if necessary.

“We are prepared to reduce costs to eliminate any deficit,” he said. “And a few retirements may assist in doing that.”

Pembroke is looking at adding one social worker position to “better support the social-emotional needs of students, families and employees,” he said. There are no plans to eliminate any positions.

As for the budget process, there is one big, unanswered question.

“It is challenging to propose and finalize a school district budget when the state budget is late,” Calderon said. 

School budget votes are on May 17, and each school district will conduct a hearing/presentation at least one week prior to the vote. Oakfield-Alabama's hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 10  and Pembroke's hearing is at 6:30 p.m. May 10.

File photo: A new tennis court at Oakfield-Alabama is one of the items needing maintenance at the district, officials say. Photo by Howard Owens.

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