A 3-percent pay raise for City School's Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. was primarily a cost-of-living adjustment, a couple of members of the board of education told The Batavian in response to a set of emailed questions.
But not all board members responded to the request for comment.
Not responding were:
Trustee Tanni Bromley provided the most detailed response.
During the annual review process, the Board approved the raise of Mr. Soler after thorough discussion during the executive session. The Board felt it was justified for a few reasons which included cost of living increase, the longevity bonus would support and promote Mr. Soler's tenure in education. And finally, the Board did feel that Mr. Soler provided a well-structured plan for our district's reopening.
The Board always takes the public's thoughts and feelings into account when making such decisions however it is also known that our decisions will not please every community member. Our objective always remains to provide our kids with the best educational experience possible, especially during these difficult and unprecedented times.
The board approved the raise for Soler, lifting his annual pay from $160,000 to $164,800, unanimously near the end of the same meeting where Soler outlined a looming financial crisis for the school district. The governor's office is withholding at least 20 percent of state funding because of the pandemic and that could lead to a revenue shortfall of more than $5.4 million.
The seeming incongruity of the revenue discussion and the board approving a raise for Soler was questioned by members of the local community, so The Batavian asked each board member to provide their individual reasons for approving the raise.
Board President Alice Ann Benedict first responded:
As per School law, we discuss any employee issues in executive session. We had an in-depth discussion. We then put it on the agenda under consent items and voted on the raise. It is a cost of living increase. Three percent of $160,000 is $4,800.
In an attempt to get Benedict to expand on her answer, The Batavian, in a response email, noted that state law allows elected officials to discuss personnel matters in executive session (what some call "secret session") but doesn't require personnel matters be discussed behind closed doors, nor does state law prohibit elected officials from publically discussing their thoughts on matters taken up in executive session.
In a subsequent email, Benedict said the board held a thorough, in-depth discussion about the raise in closed session.
In a follow-up, we asked Benedict about the size of the raise -- 3 percent -- when the inflation rate in 2020 has been less than 1 percent and the consumer price index in 2019 was less than 2 percent.
"We choose a combination of cost of living, merit, and equity," Benedict said. "This was all decided during a very lengthy executive session meeting."
Peter Cecere apologized for the delayed response because of a significant family matter. He again cited that the discussion was an executive session matter:
All decisions we arrive at are done with the utmost of thought and consideration from all angles and all sides. Many times not easy and often very laborious.
Rest assured we negotiated as a group, of one voice, and consent.
In response, The Batavian again noted that as a matter of law, he is not prohibited from discussing his decision to support a raise. We got no response.
John Marucci also apologized for a delayed response, citing long hours at work, and said:
What I can tell you is that any and all decisions made by the board of education are discussed thoroughly and we come together as a group on decisions that are made. Anything that is discussed in executive session is confidential.
In response, The Batavian again informed Marucci that we were seeking his individual thoughts on the raise and that state law does not prohibit him from answering questions for the public about matters discussed in executive session. He did not respond.
As for Anibal Soler Jr., he acknowledges that the optics of the raise being approved at a meeting where he spoke about the revenue issue -- the executive session where the raise was discussed was at a prior meeting -- don't look good, but he pointed out that:
His contract includes an annual raise;
The board was supposed to approve a raise for him in July but Soler asked that the matter be delayed because he was busy dealing with pandemic-related issues in the district;
Every bargaining unit in the district, the various unions, and other individual administrators have contracts that mandate annual raises. "Should I be the only one to go without a raise?" he said.
Yes, he said, the timing of the meeting, the optics, do not look good but the district, he said, is facing such a serious revenue shortfall that forgoing a $4,800 raise isn't going to fill in the hole.
He said last year he offered to skip a raise if all the other bargain units would forego their raises and the unions didn't take him up on the offer.
Alice Ann Benedict is in only her fourth month as president of the Board of Education for Batavia city schools but she's already looking to make a significant change to a board policy that she said has bothered her for a long time.
Under the previous leadership of Pat Burk, who resigned suddenly over the summer, if a member of the public came to a board meeting and asked a question, Burk would inform the speaker, "We don't answer questions from the public."
Benedict wants to provide the public with public answers to board questions.
She brought the issue to the board's attention at Monday's meeting and Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. suggested after the board discussion that the board hold off on changing the policy until staff can formalize the language and make a recommendation.
If the board adopts Benedict's suggestion, the district will offer a form on the district's website where members of the public could ask questions of the board. If the question is submitted prior to a set deadline -- such as 5 p.m. on the Thursday before the board's Monday meeting -- then either the board president or the superintendent would prepare an answer. At the next board meeting, during the "public speaks" portion of the agenda, the question and answer would be read aloud.
Currently, Benedict said, if a question is sent to the district, either she or Soler answer it and the board never sees the question unless Benedict forwards it to them. Benedict would like the entire board to be informed of questions from the public.
During COVID-19 restrictions, members of the public are not attending meetings but once restrictions are lifted, Benedict wants the board to have in place a policy that would allow members of the public to ask questions. If questions are submitted in advance, they will be answered at the meeting. If not, the board president or superintendent will answer the question at a subsequent meeting.
Benedict expressed concern that some people, like herself, are not "quick on their feet" when it comes to answering questions, which is why she wants a built-in delay on answering questions so there is time for research and consideration.
"I always felt like before when I was on the board, I never liked the idea that if a community member took time to come to the board to make a comment or ask a question, we would never answer," Benedict said. "We would never answer the question. That really bothered me."
At first, Trustee Shawna Murphy seemed a little confused by the suggestion, noting that the public has always been allowed to speak at meetings. After Benedict spoke more about her idea, Murphy said, "sounds beautiful."
Soler said it usually takes two readings for the board to adopt a new policy. He said the policy should incorporate best practices for dealing with public speakers and also suggested the policy should mimic what he said other districts do, which requires public speakers to sign up to speak hours in advance of the meeting "so people can't come and disrupt the meeting."
Batavia city schools are looking at a nearly $5.5 million revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year due to the global pandemic that has caused an economic retraction, and dealing with that shortfall is likely to mean the district needs to cut services and personnel, Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. informed school board members on Monday night.
Soler told the board that state aid has been cut by 20 percent, or $425,000, so far. The state says it is "withholding" the funds but there's no guarantee the funds will be backfilled, nor that there won't be more "withholding" during the remainder of the year.
The state is facing a $16 billion budget shortfall and the deficit over the next four years is expected to grow to $66 billion.
That doesn't bode well for the future of school funding, Soler said.
The superintedent said he was trying to present the board and the community with a realistic picture of the situation the district finds itself in through no fault of its own.
"If we don’t sound the alarm now and it gets sounded for us, we may be seen as not being as transparent as we can," Soler said.
While a lot of people suggest cutting things like supplies and materials, that's only 2 percent of the school district's budget. The biggest portion of the budget goes to payroll and benefits -- about 70 percent, so if it becomes necessary to cut spending, that will be the area where the district can make up much of the projected shortfall.
"At $5.4 million, you start doing the math and that's a significant number of services or employees we have to change," Soler said.
The total district budget is $51,470,726 and is supported by $27,477,066.
The unknowns at this point is: Whether there will be a round of 20-percent withholding in August and December and whether Congress will at some point approve a stimulus package that includes funding for schools.
Soler said state education officials are leaning heavily on the idea of waiting to see what happens after the election.
If the cuts turn out to be permanent, Soler outline several possible responses:
Cut teacher aides to four days a week for a savings of $301,210;
Cut custodial work to four days a week for a savings of $246,126;
Go to 100-percent remote learning to cut transportation costs by $576,000;
Eliminate activities such as music for a savings of $143,551;
Cutting athletics could save $284,089;
Increasing class size to 28 pupils per teacher, the maximum allowed by the current union contract, could save $630,000;
Eliminating non-mandated staff, such as teachers for elective courses, non-graduation requirement courses, extra librarians, some tutors and counselors, an administrator, and some aides, could lead to another $3 million in savings;
Eliminating the school resource officer would save $54,000.
What to cut and how much is a matter of priorities and a balancing act, Soler said. For example, eliminating transportation would mean a cut in state aid for transportation in future years.
Also on the table for discussion, Soler said, is a dramatic tax increase. He took notice of the possible 89-percent property tax increase in the Town of Batavia as an example of the tough budget choices the pandemic is forcing on local governments.
"Obviously, I'm not saying that's our approach but we're probably not going to be able to come out of this with no tax increase," Soler said. "It's tough because they're (property owners) are also struggling with these economic conditions."
Board Member Shawna Murphy wondered out loud why the idea of a tax increase was such a heinous idea. She suggested most people in Batavia could handle a tax increase.
Another board member spoke up (it was hard to identify the speaker on the livestream of the meeting) and said many older residents have already put their children and their grandchildren through school and now live on a fixed income. She was hesitant to burden them with a tax increase.
"I have more concern for the older property owner," she said. "Their home is the last thing they're clinging to and we're asking them to make quite a sacrifice when they have no children in the system."
The district does have about $1.75 million in reserves but that money will run out quickly if other action isn't taken, Soler said.
The district will know much more about its financial situation by the Nov. 23 board meeting, Soler said. Until then, he said, the district needs to remain "stay the course and remain Batavia Strong" and study its options.
On another budget item, the board unanimously approved an amendment to the superintendent's contract that granted Soler a $4,800 annual raise, bringing his compensation to $164,800 per year. The board did not discuss the salary increase prior to the vote.
In March, school districts were forced to quickly throw together a remote learning plan with the pandemic forced students to stay home, but after a summer to prepare, the Batavia City School District has developed a more comprehensive plan to educate children in the age of coronavirus.
Molly Corey, executive director of Curriculum and Instruction, outlined the virtual learning guidelines for the 2020/21 school year for members of the city schools' board of trustees on Monday night.
At the heart of the plan, Corey said, is SEL -- social and emotional learning.
"There is a variety of feelings around everything we're doing," Corey said. "We want to make people comfortable with what we do."
SEL is, according to the virtual learning guidebook, "the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions."
Corey said SEL includes self-awareness, self-management, being responsible for decision-making, social awareness, and developing relationship skills.
The other key elements to the learning plan include communication, instructional time, and feedback.
About 75 percent of the district's students will split time between virtual learning and in-class instruction, while the parents for 20 percent of the students have chosen virtual-only learning. The remaining 5 percent are students with special needs who will be on campus every day.
The guidebook includes a chart that highlights the differences between the hastily compiled plan for distance learning last spring and the more thoughtful plan for the new school year.
For example, "teacher check-ins" is now "Teacher-led instruction with SEL as the cornerstone of what we do," and the flexibility of daily and weekly requirements has been replaced by a scheduled and planned school day.
"Monitored attendance" becomes "attendance taken daily."
Students, and their parents, will now be expected to focus grade level/course standards using pacing guidelines.
While there were no formal assessments given last spring and grades were credit/no credit, this year will include scheduled assessments and grades and "growth-producing feedback."
All students will have a Chromebook. Middle school and high school students will use Google Classroom, while younger students will be introduced to a new program for online learning called "Seesaw."
To make all this work, communication will be key, Corey said. Teachers have to produce written communication plans for the school year to ensure students and parents have a clear idea of the process, expectations, standards and progress.
"I want parents to know that this is really a true partnership," Corey said. "To make this work, we need them with us."
Due to Genesee County declaring a countywide state of emergency, Batavia City School District will remain closed until further notice, including all school-based activities.
However, the District is taking steps to do whatever it can to support our students and our families during this unprecedented time of uncertainty.
Our nutritional services department will be providing free “grab and go” breakfast and lunch bags for all students (and all household family members under the age of 18). These will be distributed each school day from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. by the entrance of all District building properties, including the Robert Morris building, as pictured and as described here:
Jackson: Pick up will be from the loop in front of the building (via Jackson Street);
JK: Pick up will be in the parent loop (Vine Street);
MS: Pick up will be on the side of the building; Please enter via Walker Place;
HS: Pick up will be from the loop in front of the school (State Street);
RM: Bus loop on side of the building (Union Street).
If this arrangement for food distribution poses a challenge for your family, please call your child’s school’s main office. The number for all District offices is 343-2480, then add the appropriate extension for your school building as follows: Jax is ext. 4000, JK is ext. 5000, BMS is ext. 3000, BHS is ext. 2000).
In addition, the District is collaborating with community partners about additional resources regarding food distribution and will provide updates as they become available.
Instructional information for students is also being made available so that students can continue to engage in their studies as much as possible.
All students, K-12 will have access to materials through the COVID-19 tab on our website, or through this direct link. In addition, Jackson Primary and John Kennedy will be providing paper packets for K-4 students that will be distributed with the “grab and go” breakfast/lunch bags.
Please continue to check our Facebook page and website. We will be providing updates as they become available. In addition, if you have specific questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us by email, the “Let’s Talk” app accessed through our website, or a phone call to the appropriate office or building.
For further guidance and recommendations for staying healthy and protecting yourself, your family, and others during this outbreak, please consult the attached document about "social distancing" as well as these helpful guidelines and information sources:
When I started my tenure as your Superintendent of Schools I never thought that within my first two months we would be dealing with a pandemic and being forced to close schools until further notice. These are definitely new and constantly evolving times for our students, families, staff, community, and nation. Please know that the decision to close schools is never an easy one as our schools are the support and gateway to resources for our kids and families.
Please know that we're working closely with public health experts and while we don't have a confirmed case in Genesee County as of yet – a State of Emergency was declared for our region last night. We believe with proper healthy habits and social distancing that many of us remain at low risk for contracting COVID-19.
What is social distancing you might ask? It is the practice of reducing close contact between people to slow the spread of infections or diseases. Social distancing measures include limiting large groups of people coming together, closing buildings and canceling events.
Therefore, the guidance is that if we close schools, we will be able to slow down a community spread and assist our public health system in being able to test, treat and slow down the spread of COVID-19.
The BCSD Leadership Team and I met today, and we have developed the following Closure Plan that will be in place effective Monday, March 16, 2020. Phase One of the plan focuses primarily on food distribution, instructional resources, staff reporting, and facility access.
Closure Plan: Phase One
· Food Distribution: “Grab and Go” breakfast and lunch will be available for students and family members under the age of 18, from 9 a.m. - 12 p.m., Monday through Friday at the front entrances of Batavia High School, Batavia Middle School, John Kennedy Intermediate School, Jackson Primary School, and Robert Morris. We are also currently working with community partners and agencies on providing late afternoon/ evening meal options.
· Instructional Resources: Teachers have prepared instructional lessons and activities for students to stay engaged with schoolwork while school is not in session. Please visit the following link to access your school’s Closure Resources: https://www.bataviacsd.org/Page/7546
· Staff Reporting: All essential staff will report to allow us to answer school phones, clean buildings, distribute meals and support any questions or concerns.
· Facility and Building Access: Teachers and High School students will be afforded an opportunity on Monday, March 16th to come in and pick up any personal items or classroom materials they will need during this closure period. Specific communication regarding this opportunity will come directly from school Principals.
The district has also created a COVID-19 webpage that will list a variety of resources and information on our district website. I would encourage you to check the website and our Batavia City Schools Facebook page regularly for ongoing updates.
Please be assured that the Batavia City School District will continue to act out of an abundance of caution to protect everyone’s health and well-being. We will monitor our Closure Plan on a weekly basis and look to make necessary adjustments as needed to support our students, families and staff.
I know we will get through this together!
WE are BATAVIA!!! #BetterTogetherBatavia
Anibal Soler Jr. Superintendent Batavia City Schools
When the Batavia City School District Board of Education meets Tuesday, they will discuss how to proceed with replacing trustee Zach Korzelius, who resigned recently.
In an email to Board President Pat Burk, Korzelius wrote: "This will serve as my written notice to the board of my resignation to focus more time on work and family. Thank you to all for relationships that have been built and good luck going forward."
Korzelius was initially appointed to the board in 2017 to fill the unexpired term of Leslie Johnson and then elected to the board in 2018. His term was set to expire at the end of June 2021.
His bio has been removed from the district website.
David Chua, Stephen Pribek and Ashley Elmore -- Certificate of Appreciation
Sarah Gahagan has nominated David Chua, Stephen Pribek and Ashley Elmore for a board award. Each of these individuals invested a large chunk of time mentoring and modeling the word "commitment" to the B Squad boys. They did what not everyone does....they SHOWED UP. Each week, two days a week for 20 weeks these volunteers modeled follow through and were able to showcase what "doing what you love" looks like.
Each of these volunteers had something special to offer, a love of running and showed just how important it is to continue doing what you love, even into adulthood when you are busy and "life" takes over. Chua was a soft spoken guiding force of optimism and motivation, whereas Pribek could always add a science lesson into our running and truly teach us something new every single practice. His humor was a favorite with the boys. And Elmore is a ray of light. She is positive, fun, and encouraged the boys to always be their best under any circumstance. She is a true leader who shines from the inside out.
This program is only able to be successful because of the volunteers. We need to ensure safety while running and the more adults we have, the safer we are and the more boys we can accept within this program.
Volunteering is something not many do these days and it is valuable and appreciated and for this they all deserve to be recognized.
Carlos Colon -- Certificate of Appreciation
The English as a New Language faculty nominate Carlos Colon for a Board of Education award because of his dedication to our district and students. Anyone who knows Carlos would use words like friendly, easy going, helpful, and caring to describe him. Colon's official job title is maintenance staff, however he frequently uses his time to help others outside this requirement.
Most notably, Colon has helped countless times this year alone in translating needs, concerns, and important information between teachers or administration, and parents who speak only Spanish. He does this because he knows the parents and teachers struggle to understand each other using only a translation app, and he doesn't want something important to be misconstrued due to a technical error.
He has also been called upon when our Spanish-speaking students needed a familiar face and language to calm them down. He has talked kids down from metaphorical ledges more than once, and helped the students come to a more peaceful place so that teachers could have a conversation with students. One student even shadows him as he works, as an incentive for good behavior.
Other students also look up to Carlos, as a friend, mentor, and a person they can trust. Colon embodies the phrase “above and beyond,” all in the hopes of helping our students be successful and understood. For these reasons, we believe Colon is well deserving of recognition for his work by the Board of Education.
Nominated by the ENL Department Staff.
Jenna Mrzywka (pronounced Majifka), Trina Cox, Addison Marino, Chelsea Cummings, Courtney Turcer and Shawn Chrysler.
Jim Jacobs -- Certificate of Appreciation
Jacobs recently came back out of retirement to fill in as Interim Director of Facilities. He stepped back in and it was as if he had never left. His knowledge and experience was instrumental in our schools opening smoothly and safely this year as the Capital Project created many changes to the District. Working closely with him, I saw first hand his continued dedication to make our schools the best they can be for our students and staff. It was a pleasure working with him again. Thank you, Jim!
Information and photos submitted by the school district.
The Batavia City School District’s Board of Education (BOE) has named Anibal Soler Jr. as the district’s next superintendent. Soler Jr. is set to begin on Jan. 20.
Patrick Burk, Batavia City School District’s Board President stated, “The board is confident that Anibal Soler Jr. will lead our district as we work together to deliver the best education possible for our students. Our search process narrowed the field to three excellent candidates. We value all of the input from our stakeholders and community members.
"With his dedication, enthusiasm and knowledge, our board feels that Anibal has the educational capacity and attributes to move us forward. We are united in making Batavia City Schools the best district for our students and we feel that we are making the right decision in hiring Anibal.”
Soler Jr. is the associate superintendent of Strategic Alignment and Innovation for the Buffalo Public Schools, New York state’s second-largest school district, a position he has held since 2018. In this role, he oversees four areas: adult education, district athletics, the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, and the district school improvement strategy known as Strong Community Schools, which encompasses 11,000 students and 21 schools across the City of Buffalo. This Strong Community Schools effort has moved persistently struggling or failing schools to good-standing rating by the New York State Education Department.
From 2016 until 2018 Soler Jr. was the principal of North Park Academy, an elementary school in the Buffalo Public School District. In this role, he led a staff of more than 50 and 250 students and supervised all instructional and operational aspects of this Pre-K through 8 community school.
From 2009-2016, Soler Jr. was the principal of East High School, the largest comprehensive high school in the Rochester City School District, with between 1,500 to 2,000 students and a staff of almost 250. Through his leadership, the school was removed from the New York State Education Department’s Persistently Dangerous list in 2011.
Soler Jr. serves as an adjunct professor at Canisius College in Buffalo. He began teaching in 2000 as an art teacher at Thomas Middle School in the Rochester City School District.
“I wish to thank the Batavia Board of Education for offering me this exciting opportunity to be the next Superintendent of Batavia City Schools," Soler Jr. said. "I am deeply honored and humbled to be selected to lead your high-quality school system. I also look forward to joining and serving the amazing students, parents, talented staff, and community partners of the Batavia City Schools.
"Together, we will continue to make Batavia City Schools a premier district that effectively serves and supports all students and families.”
Soler Jr. holds a Bachelor of Science from Daemen College, a master’s degree from Nazareth College and Certification in School Administrator and School District Administration from St. John Fisher College. He also holds a certification as a New York State School Administration Supervisor. Soler Jr. is currently enrolled in the doctorate program in Educational Leadership at the University of Rochester.
Kevin MacDonald, district superintendent of the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership, acted as the search consultant and noted that the search process was a true collaboration between the Board of Education, district staff, and community.
A policy proposal submitted by Michael Bromley, Batavia City Schools athletic director, received some push back from Board of Education President Patrick Burk at Tuesday's school board meeting after Bromley said community organizations would be able to use the new Van Detta Stadium for free.
It's not that Burk opposes free use of school facilities, he said, but he claimed that to allow free use of Van Detta while groups must pay a fee at certain times to use other school facilities isn't fair.
Burk noted that the school district changed its policy some time ago based on state education law to charge a fee for use of facilities at times when school custodians are not on the premises.
Custodians are at school facilities from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday during the school year and until 3 p.m. on weekdays during the summer and on holiday breaks.
"People may think I don't want community groups using Van Detta Stadium but that's not the case," Burk said. "I think there is a double standard if they're allowed to use it for free if others are being charged a fee."
Burk runs a nonprofit dance studio that uses school facilities and must pay a fee. He said the Genesee Symphony Orchester and the Rotary Club, among others, were "forced out" of the school district buildings when the district started charging fees.
Roxanne Choate, chairwoman of the GSO board, confirmed in an email today that the GSO stopped using the high school auditorium because the fee for its use was $500 per concert. The rural districts, in contrast, she said, charge $150. The orchestra does not pay for use of the bandroom for rehearsals since those take place on weeknights during the school year.
Burk reiterated this morning that he isn't seeking a way for the district to collect fees for use of Van Detta. He would rather see no fees charged to any community organization based in Batavia that would like to use school facilities during non-school hours.
"To me, it's a matter of removing the stadium usage fees, then the building usage should fee should also be removed," Burk said.
The Batavian has sought clarity on any such state law from the State Department of Education and has not yet received a response.
The plan presented by Bromley, which was based on conversations with Chris Dailey when he was superintendent and Interim Superintendent Scott Bischoping contemplates three tiers of usage for the stadium.
Local groups, such as the Batavia Bulldawgs, could use it for free -- as they have been so far this year. Section V and the state athletic association would pay a fee sufficient to cover all staff costs for regional and statewide championships and other events. High schools from outside the county would also be able to request use of the facility for special events.
If community groups wanted to use the concession stand and benefit financially from concession sales, they would have to provide the staff and their own food and drink, in their own ice chests, for sale. For regional and state events, the school district would run the concessions with the proceeds going to school fundraisers.
The proposal is pending while district officials research what they can legally do regarding outside use of school facilities.
There should not be any effect, while the decision is pending, on planned events, including an anticipate Section V playoff game for Notre Dame on Oct. 26, nor a state championship tournament for eight-man football.
The stands are up, the turf is in and it looks like the Batavia Blue Devils will indeed have a new stadium in time for fall football as workers tighten bolts and sew up seams in coming days before the oval track around the field is installed.
The new stadium, replacing the 70-year-old Van Detta Stadium, is part of a $27 million district-wide capital improvement project approved by voters two years ago that includes upgrades at all three school sites.
Voters in the Batavia City School District will be asked on May 21 to approve a budget of $50,518,573, with a projected increase in the tax levy of 2.93 percent.
The Board of Trustees approved the proposed budget Tuesday night, following a public hearing, sending it to the voters for final approval before the 2019-2020 school year.
Spending in the district will drop 3.20 percent, or more than to $1.6 year-over-year if voters approve the budget.
The proposed tax rate is $22.06 for 2019-2020, up from $21.67 this year.
Voting will take place on Tuesday, May 21, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Robert Morris building and Batavia High School.
As part of the public hearing, Superintendent Chris Dailey, in his final budget hearing with the district (he's taken a job with the Gates Chili Central School District) shared a good deal of detail about the district.
This year, there are 2,377 students enrolled, and though the district provides free breakfast and lunch to all students, under government guidelines for free and reduced-price lunches, 59 percent of the district students qualify.
The attendance rate is 95 percent. Dailey said that is the highest in the area.
"It doesn't hurt that students know they are getting two free meals a day," Dailey said. "They know they're going to eat at least twice."
There are 259.4 teachers in the district, 122 teachers aides and clerical employees, 39 maintenance staff, four assistant principals, four principals, five people in IT, 24 in nutritional services, and seven in the central office.
The BHS graduation rate is 92 percent. That is, again, one of the highest in the area, Dailey said.
In the coming year, the district will add a Batavia police officer as a school resource officer.
Some of the programs in the district that are not mandated by the state but that Dailey said the community demands:
District officials have trimmed more than $1.1 million in proposed spending from February's draft budget for the Batavia City School District. Combined with an additional $500,000 in state aid, it means the proposed 2019-2020 tax levy will stay below that state-mandated tax cap amount and allow local homeowners to get their annual rebate checks.
That's a pretty good deal for Batavia homeowners, who have received an average of $500,000 more in rebates each of the past five years than whatever increase in taxes the school district has initiated for the year.
Voters will be asked to approve the $50.518 million spending plan, which anticipates a tax levy of $19.5 million.
Tax rates won't be set until assessments are done but Business Administrator Scott Rozanski said the early estimate is that local property owners will see a tax-rate increase of 27 cents on each $1,000 of assessed value.
In the search to cut proposed spending, Rozanski said the district will delay $300,000 in technology spending, reduce spending on new library books to the state-aid amount of $24,000, and delay additional equipment purchases for another $19,000 in savings. Some personnel's salaries can be covered by grants.
Last year, the tax levy increased by $444,000 and local residents received rebates on school property taxes of $1.1 million. The three previous years, there was no increase in the levy and taxpayers received cumulative rebates of $424,000, $ $825,506, and $535,194.
The 2014-15 school year was the one year in which the tax levy increased more than rebates, with about a $150,000 difference.
Rebates for local residents are set based on an income formula so people with lower incomes receive bigger rebates proportionally.
Since the tax cap became law, the district has kept the tax levy below the allowable tax cap amount. For the 2019-2020 budget, it will be $331,886 below the potential levy amount.
Over the previous seven years, the district budgets, cumulatively, have been $3.8 million under what the tax levies could have been in those years.
With each budget revision of the Batavia City School District budget for 2019-2020, Business Administrator Scott Rozanski gets a little closer to trimming $750,000 in spending.
He said school officials are also hoping state aid will increase for the year so the district can keep the property tax levy from growing more than 4.69 percent.
In the latest revision, Rozanski has penciled in $51,118,155 in spending.
He expects about $25 million in state aid, though hoping for more, and local revenue of more than $27.4 million. That would include spending $3.1 million in fund balance with a tax levy of $20,608,000.
But that tax levy amount would mean an increase of 8.78 percent, well above the legal limit of the state's property tax law.
Over three revisions, Rozanski has already trimmed off more than $500,000 but he still needs to find enough savings to get the levy down to $19,834,000, or lower.
A levy under that amount would allow the budget to pass on a simple majority and ensure district property owners would be eligible for a tax rebate from the state in the fall.
A Tuesday's school board meeting, Rozanski said administrators and department chairs found $166,000 in purchases that could be canceled or delayed.
The district will also be able to save $120,000 by letting positions stand vacant after staff retirements.
When asked by a board member why the positions weren't being filled, Rozanski said, "We need to look at things a little bit differently in how we're operating so we're looking for savings."
Those are the kind of cuts Rozanski continues to look for in the budget. He said he doesn't anticipate any significant program cuts.
Overall, the school district expects to cut spending by more than $2.8 million but $2.1 million of that spending came from a statewide bond initiative five years ago that allowed school districts through the state to improve technology-related infrastructure. The cut in revenue and expenditure offset each other as the program comes to a close.
The other $750,000 that must be cut is the result of an NYS Comptroller audit a few years ago that found the school district was estimating revenue correctly but underestimating expenditures in its annual budgets. This was leading to a growing fund reserve. The reserve had become 7 or 8 percent of overall expenditures when it shouldn't be more than 4 percent. That money, the report noted, should be returned to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts.
The district had a reserve fund for debt service but the Comptroller said debt service should be paid out of the general fund so, over the past two years, the district has been transferring money from the debt service fund to the general fund. The debt service fund is now tapped out, hence the need to cut $750,000 in expenses.