JPS Officials Predict Fiscal Stress For 2014-15

Jamestown Public Schools officials are predicting a dangerously low unappropriated fund balance moving into the 2014-15 academic year.

On Tuesday, the Board of Education was presented with a breakdown of the district’s financial situation in terms of revenues and expenditures; the former of which is expected to prevail over the latter until the conclusion of the academic year when the district will begin making payments on its debt service.

“We’re finally at the point where the revenues are exceeding expenditures,” said Dale Weatherlow, assistant superintendent for administration. “That’s quite typical for this time of year, when we start getting state aid, and I suspect it should stay that way into the end of June.”

Weatherlow said he expects to see the district’s general fund balance take some severe hits in the coming months. He reported an initial 2013-14 fund balance amount, including reserves, to be $8,681,000. However, the fund balance amount by the end of the school year will be nowhere near that amount.

“That number is going to drop down considerably to about $4.9 million,” he said. “And then if we look at the balances still in those reserves, and reduce the appropriated fund balance from $3.2 million down to $2.5 million, our unappropriated fund balance is going to be extremely small.”

He said he went into the 2013-14 budget building process with the knowledge that the district would be needing to appropriate a large amount of money, but was hoping for a state aid increase or termination of the gap elimination adjustment – neither of which appear to be likely for this coming year. This leaves the district looking at a $2.5 million fund balance appropriation, which he said is extremely high.

In his first budget presentation earlier this month, Weatherlow had alluded to a $2.6 million budget gap.

Tim Mains, superintendent, said he had spoken with Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, earlier Tuesday in his continued efforts to lobby for the termination of the gap elimination adjustment. However, he said, the outcome of the conversation was less than comforting.

“Sen. Young insisted that they were working as hard as they could, and that gap elimination adjustment restoration is their No. 1 priority in the Senate,” Mains said. “However, what she described was a ‘negotiations in progress’ that still leaves me nervous. I expressed to her my deep, deep concern that we shouldn’t be funding anything else other than the core financial support that districts need.”

He said a small silver lining came in the form of a proposed timeline within the Senate’s version of the state budget which said the gap elimination adjustment must completely end next year, if not this one. Mains said at recent board meetings that JPS would receive more than $1 million in additional funding toward its budget if the gap elimination adjustment were to be eliminated this year.

“The sad part for us is that I did not hear anything that looked like it was sufficient funds to close the size of the (budget) gap that we have, and that alarms me greatly,” Mains said. “Districts in Chautauqua County are hurting, and it saddens me that the governor and the legislature are continuing to discuss other optional programs that can only be funded because they’re taking money away from core educational funding.”

Mains said if JPS does not receive major help from the state, the district is facing the unfortunate reality of needing to shave expenses, make severe cuts to programming and staff positions, and raise its tax levy.