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For second try, Germantown puts the cap on


GERMANTOWN–In a meeting May 23 that lasted more than three hours, the Board of Education hammered out a new budget to put before the voters on June 19. This new budget proposes a 1.75% property tax levy limit for the district. The previous budget, which called for a 5.2% levy increase, was rejected by voters earlier this month 514 to 415.

On anonymous, voluntary forms filled out by 434 voters as they left the school poll last month, 143 said they objected to the tax increase and 79 said they couldn’t afford it.

Superintendent Patrick Gabriel then brought in the new proposal, which uses $1,009,005 of the funds the district holds in reserve to keep the tax levy increase at 1.75%. The new proposal is below the state-mandated 2% increase cap, so it requires a simple majority for approval. The previous, rejected budget would have used $668,308 in reserve funds.

If voters fail to approve the new budget proposal June 19, the district will be required to impose a so-called austerity budget, which limits most spending to current levels.

Some board members were ready to approve Mr. Gabriel’s proposal early in the evening, but others wanted to review the staff cuts that remained. In the end, the board restored an elementary school teacher, a general science teacher, a part-time nurse and a physical education position.

The following staff reductions remain under the new proposal: English, social studies, math and family and consumer sciences positions are reduced to .8 full-time equivalents (FTE), based on enrollment numbers; and music is reduced to .5 FTE, with the district no longer providing the current level of individual and small-group lessons. Art was reduced to .7 FTE. While there was some discussion about reducing art to .5 FTE, the decision was to provide for two 7th-grade art classes or an art elective, rather than one large class.

The board also included a proposed reduction in the services the district purchases from Questar III BOCES: the network engineer and the special education director are each reduced from four to three days, and the public information coordinator would no longer work for the district.

The resulting $13.7-million budget proposal is higher than the $13.6 million budget that failed, but remains lower than the current $13.9 budget. The total proposed reductions are $203,237, in contrast to the $263,933 reductions in the failed budget.

The board passed the new proposal in a 6-1 vote. Only Ralph DelPozzo, who won reelection to the board with 635 votes, held out. Asked why, he said, “I wanted all the positions put back into the budget, I wanted to get our programs up to snuff.”

This could be done, he said, by using more of the reserve fund. “We’ll have another million coming in [to the fund] in June,” he said. “We vote on a budget of about $13 million per year, but spend about $12 million,” he explained, crediting Superintendent Gabriel of “doing a good job. The board is too cautious, they want to plan four or five years down the road, even Gabriel agreed most of other schools plan one year at a time.”

In introducing the new proposal, Mr. Gabriel said he took three lessons from the budget defeat: “Persuading others to plan even just a few years ahead is complicated and difficult; given the choice of planning for hard times or getting through one year at a time, our tendency is to choose one year at a time”; and it was time to “go with the conventional wisdom,” a phrase that became a sort of mantra for that night’s board meeting.

Mr. Gabriel was out of town this week and could not be reached for further comment. Catherine Gomm, school business official, said that assuming the district uses $1million from the reserve fund for the 2012-13 school year, about $1.6 million would remain in the fund, and at that rate of use, the fund would last through the 2013-14 school year.

Mr. DelPozzo’s son teaches art in the Germantown School, and his wife works in the school library. Asked if these family connections affected his vote–he also voted against the earlier proposal–he said they did not. “I voted with the board for no increase in teacher salaries,” he said. “The board was unanimous in that. We have to do what’s good for the whole district, not just individuals.”

Noting that the board is at an “impasse” now in negotiations with the teachers, Mr. DelPozzo said he was hopeful that “when we have a budget, we’ll work something out.”


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