JPS Hosts Public Session For Budget Ideas, Suggestions

A public session focusing on the 2014-15 Jamestown Public Schools budget yielded dozens of suggestions for consideration by the Board of Education.

Parents, community members, staff and administrators of JPS met Tuesday evening to discuss potential cost-saving measures as the district undergoes the process of preparing next year’s budget.

The two-hour public forum provided those outside of JPS’ administration and board with an opportunity to have an unprecedented amount of input in the budget-building process. According to Tim Mains, JPS superintendent, hosting a public work session specifically for the purpose of budget planning is a unique idea that has never been implemented in Jamestown before.

“We’ve never done this in Jamestown,” Mains said. “We’re really interested in trying to get public input for the board about how the public views the different things that the district does.”

The session opened with a brief presentation by Dale Weatherlow, assistant superintendent for administration, regarding budget pressures currently being faced by the district. Weatherlow provided statistics on six specific areas in which costs are climbing or otherwise substantial, including: retirement system payments, wage increases, health care increases, supplies and contractual costs and an unspecified dollar amount to be designated for contract settlements. Weatherlow added that the district’s loss of Race to the Top grant funding will also have an impact on the budget.

Attendees were then separated into four separate groups to discuss their opinions on which JPS offerings should be protected, enhanced or reduced within four topic areas: instructional programs; extracurricular activities; facilities, operations and management and an “other” category. Groups rotated to each topic station in 20-minute intervals, during which suggestions were compiled into lists at each topic station before being read aloud at the conclusion of the session.

Joseph DiMaio, board president, said the session provided board members with a healthy portion of food for thought as the district moves forward with the construction of its budget.

“I think the ideas that people came up with showed that they really put a great deal of thought into them,” DiMaio said. “A lot of times, this kind of thing can become a (gripe) session where everybody wants to just complain, but I really got no sense of that tonight. One of the things that stood out to me was the community of people that came here believe we should hold fast to the kinds of the things that many of us on the board believe are important. That will help us when we have to go and prioritize.”

He added: “This was very much a worthwhile endeavor. Anything that we can do that can help us make tough decisions makes it well worth any time that we might put into it. And time is precious, so the fact that people were willing to give up some of their time here means that we need to look seriously at the thoughts and the ideas that they come up with.”

Some of the items presented during the session included: the protection of academic intervention services in elementary grades, a district wide 14 percent cut to interscholastic programs in order to foster the creation of a new teaching position, the consideration of utilizing outside agencies to operate after school activities, reducing field and athletic trips to save on transportation costs, the exploration of further shared services with other districts, offering drivers education to help generate revenue, hosting the high school musical at JHS rather than the Reg Lenna Civic Center and the establishment of a Jamestown Education Foundation.

Mains said the ideas and suggestions compiled during the session will be organized, transcribed and posted to the JPS website at www.jamestownpublicschools.org, as well as distributed to all members of the board for consideration.