NORTH CREEK School board meetings are not held to dispense discouraging news, all evidence of the last several years notwithstanding. Even the genial budget workshop held Feb. 13 by the Johnsburg Central School District Board belied uncomfortable uncertainties.
Board members and district staff use workshops to reacquaint themselves and the community with how and why tax revenue is used in schools, but also to create a context into which spending justifications can be poured. And here's the context for Johnsburg's 2012-'13 budget: Any number of items could push the district hard into the state-mandated 2 percent property-tax cap.
Take, for example, the district's health insurance bill. Superintendent Michael Markwica had preliminarily budgeted a 9 percent rise in the premium it pays Empire BlueCross BlueShield. Now it looks like Empire will increase its fees between 11 and 15 percent. A final figure will not be known until March.
An 11 percent increase will create a budget gap of about $200,000, a 15 percent rise will mean a $300,000 gap, said Markwica. Johnsburg's participation in a 31-district self-insurance consortium had, until recently, kept its premiums extraordinarily low compared to the double-digit premium increase that have been routine for agencies and businesses that do not self-insure. Johnsburg's premium had seen a zero percent increase for the past two years and was about a 3.5 percent increase three years ago.
And declining enrollment in BOCES, or the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, means 4 percent higher tuitions charged to schools, such Johnsburg, who use BOCES to share the cost of certain school services. Administration fees for the program are going up 1.7 percent as well.
Not to be left out are this year's negotiations with Johnsburg's teachers, represented by New York State United Teachers. Markwica, who has already had informal discussions with the teachers, said there's nothing in past contract negotiations or in the talks he's had so far to indicate a confrontation is brewing, but there's no mistaking the wary expression he wears as he considers possible futures under the tax cap.
The adopted 2011-12 school budget totals $9,856,704, which was a decrease of $205,711 — 2.04 percent — from the previous spending plan of $10,062,415. The tax levy for 2011-12 is $5,249,280. That’s a $583,254 decrease — about 10 percent — from the previous levy of $5,832,534.
The next School Board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27. Budget approval by board members is tentatively set for April 16. A public hearing on the budget will be held on May 7, and the vote will be on May 15.