JPS Presents First 2014-15 Budget Draft, Expects Tax Cap Issues

The Jamestown Public Schools District doesn’t have an expenditure problem, it has a revenue problem.

This is the phrase that has been uttered countless times as JPS administrators attempt to draw up yet another budget containing a serious funding shortage as a result of the gap elimination adjustment.

On Tuesday, the Board of Education met to discuss the first draft of its 2014-15 budget, which included a modest 1.7 percent increase in overall expenditures. The draft was presented by Dale Weatherlow, assistant superintendent for administration, who said the district is facing a $2.6 million budget gap despite the fact that it has kept its yearly expenditures increase relatively low.

“Our budget is really only up at just under $1.3 million, or 1.72 percent,” Weatherlow said. “That is very marginal. That is not a significant increase in an expenditure budget; it’s very reasonable in this day and age. My concern is if additional funds do come through from the final state budget, but yet they don’t remove the gap elimination adjustment.”

Weatherlow said JPS is one of five component districts within the Erie 2-Chautauqua Cattaraugus BOCES service area that has reached the 43 percent cap on gap elimination adjustment restoration from the state, which means the district would see no benefit to any potential additional funding made available in the 2014 state budget.

Weatherlow reported that JPS has achieved a balance between its expenditures and revenues. The expenditures differential between last year and this year is estimated to be a $1,296,059 increase, while the revenues differential is also estimated to be a $1,296,059 increase – both of which are equivalent to a 1.72 percent increase over the 2013-14 budget.

Weatherlow and Superintendent Tim Mains said the bulk of the expenditures increase comes from cost increases that are out of the district’s control, such as a BOCES capital project that JPS must pay into as a component district, and substantial statewide increases in contributions to the teachers’ retirement system.

Additionally, JPS’ financial woes became more palpable as Weatherlow presented the amount of state aid the district has missed out on as a result of the gap elimination adjustment and the state’s freezing of once guaranteed aid through the Foundation Aid Formula in 2009-10. He said the district’s cumulative funding losses through the gap elimination adjustment since it was introduced in 2010-11 are $13,401,000, while the total losses from frozen foundation aid are in excess of $98 million.

“That’s a huge amount of money that we’re not receiving, so it’s a huge opportunity for loss,” Weatherlow said.

Mains condemned the state’s continued imposition of the gap elimination adjustment on school districts after it has claimed to have closed its own budget gap.

“The state simply has not come through with the dollars that we need to educate children in this district, and it’s frustrating because we’re being told that the state is now flush,” Mains said. “The whole reason the gap elimination adjustment was imposed on districts all those years ago was because the state had a deficit, and that deficit was closed using money that should go to school children so that the state could be whole. The state no longer has a deficit, and has a balanced budget. So, in my mind, there is no reason for the gap elimination adjustment. The gap elimination adjustment should be eliminated for Jamestown and every other district in the state.”

Should the gap elimination be eliminated as Mains suggests, he said JPS would receive more than $1 million in additional funding for the next school year – which would cut the district’s estimated budget gap in half. Weatherlow and Mains frequently urged administrators, teachers, staff, parents and taxpayers in general to lobby their legislators for the elimination of the gap elimination adjustment.

Another issue presented by Weatherlow is that the district’s tax cap for the upcoming tax levy is $2,337,477 in the hole. This means the district would have to exceed the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap in order to reach its current tax levy, which requires a 60 percent supermajority vote from taxpayers in order to be approved.

Mains said the need for a supermajority vote is an unfortunate byproduct of the “strange” way in which the state’s tax cap law was constructed.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me that we should have to have a supermajority just to raise the same amount of money that we did last year,” Mains said.

He said the notion of the tax cap was to try to control a district’s spending by making sure that it could not increase its tax levy by more than 2 percent.

“Functionally, we’re being told (the cap) is 1.47 percent for this year; not really 2 percent. But I can’t even raise my tax levy by 1.47 percent. Just to keep it where it is, according to the calculations that Dale (Weatherlow) has done, we’ll have to have a supermajority. That makes no sense to me at all.”

With the final state budget expected to meet its April 1 deadline, Mains said he anticipates JPS to have its final budget early next month.