Warwick School Board Faces Tough Budget

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Story by Lisa Rice

     In compliance with New York State regulations, the Warwick Valley Central School Board of Education again conducted their monthly meeting via teleconference on Thurs., Apr. 16.

     The first order of business was for the Board members to approve the Orange-Ulster BOCES 2020-2021 Administrative budget. Superintendent Dr. David Leach reported highlights in the budget, that include reductions of clerical staff salaries by $106,952, legal fees by $8,379, benefits in the clerical area of $56,850 and to their capital budget of $25,000. A total reduction of $197,181.

     The Board then cast its vote for the BOCES Board of Education, which includes Warwick Board Member David Eaton, who was appointed to serve this year. He is running to complete the next two years of the three-year term.

Update on Distance Learning

     Dr. Leach acknowledged the teachers, students, parents and administrators for implementing and sustaining the Distance Learning Plan adopted after the school district was closed in mid-March. He stated that he has received emails regarding how the district is handling the remote instruction and said that the feedback has been used to refine the plan.

     Currently, the teachers are utilizing Google Classroom Meets to offer virtual lessons. Daily lessons are recorded three times a week for math and ELA for grades kindergarten through 6th grade and students will not be receiving formal grades for the remainder of the school year. Final report cards will offer feedback on academic progress.

     Middle and High school students can view lessons videotaped by their teachers three days per week for each instructional assignment. Assignments are posted by 9 a.m. Teachers also have office hours during which time the students can ask questions and see their teacher. Assignments will be graded and assessed, and the third quarter results will be combined with fourth quarter results. Teachers will reach out to parents if they have any academic concerns.

     “Now that this has been a protracted school closure, we felt it was important to continue to move forward, refine our approach, provide new instruction,” said Leach. “And I’m certainly very proud of our teachers and administrators that have worked hard and to get us to this point, and I’m thankful for their focus on the children’s well-being.”

     “I just wanted to add how thankful I am for the efforts of our teachers and our administrative staff regarding everything they are doing on the distance learning plan,” said Board member Denise Ginley. “As a parent in the district, I really am so thankful for all of their efforts.”

COVID-19 Further Affects Strained Budget

     Dr. Leach provided Budget Presentation #6 which showed proposed budget reductions, reminding that the school district receives 27% of its revenue from New York State, and that it is anticipated that there will be a decrease in State aid of about 2% or $500,000. This reduction was known prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, when the state had a $6-7 billion budget gap; now it is anticipated at $15 billion or more.

     The proposed tax increase for the 2020-2021 school budget remains below the tax cap by $172,000, an increase of 1.68%. The State budget is usually set in April, but this time it will be reviewed and potentially adjusted throughout the year. Leach stated that if revenues are below the budget, allocation is reduced and that makes it difficult to plan the annual budget.

     In reviewing the proposed expenditure budget, Leach discussed additional reductions in materials and supplies of $400,000 since the last presentation, which brings total expenditure reductions to nearly $1.5 million.

     “So, losing the state aid and having to figure out how we’re going to adjust to that, we’re at a point now where we’ll have to reduce further by about $400,000,” Leach said. “And we’ll give that strong consideration to making sure that those reductions have as least an impact on the students as possible. And I think that we will be able to accomplish that. But, of course, these are never easy decisions to make.”

     The school board election and budget vote has been postponed, by an executive order by Governor Andrew Cuomo, until June 9. The school board elections and budget votes will all be conducted by mail and all qualified voters will be sent an absentee ballot with return postage paid..

Federal Funds Offset State Foundation Aid

     Following budget presentation #6, Leach directed board members to budget presentation #7, available on the district website, which shows the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) analysis of the 2020-21 enacted state budget. A Pandemic Adjustment shows how some federal money was applied to ensure foundation aid to districts was not significantly reduced.

     The extent of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, looking out several years from the superintendent’s perspective, is troublesome. With state and local economies hurting, there will be less revenue and less revenue means less aid. With a low rate of inflation, at some point the district could be looking at the 2% tax cap being zero. They are also seeing the economic downturn reducing their rental income. Potential health insurance premium increases, along with required pension obligations and a declining stock market are other challenges that lie ahead for the district.

     All budget presentations are available for public viewing on the district website.

Student Directory Info Policy to be Revised

     Board president Sharon Davis reported that there would be some revisions to the Student Directory Information policy, as suggested by legal counsel, due to distance learning. Leach stated that enhancements to this policy would allow the district to notify parents of what information is shared and what is included in the directory. Parents will be given the option to opt-out if they have any concerns. Leach commented that the board would also probably have to meet to discuss the policy in consideration of class rank and graduation requirements. Later the motion to make the recommended changes was approved by the board.

Scholarship Donation Accepted

     Before adjourning the meeting, the board voted unanimously to accept a donation in the amount of $400 for the Elizabeth Hurd Memorial Scholarship for Excellence in Communications.

Next Meeting

     The next regular meeting of the Warwick Valley Central School District will be held on Mon., May 11 via teleconference.

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