Board of Ed OKs $122.98M budget

Voters to have their say on May 18 following board’s unanimous approval of spending plan

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Rome City School District Board of Education members unanimously adopted a $122.98 million 2021-22 proposed school budget calling for a $373,155 increase in spending and $668,000 increase in the amount to be raised by taxes.

The proposed budget will be presented to district residents for a vote on Tuesday, May 18 to be held from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Superintendent Peter C. Blake said the total proposed spending plan is $122,980,692, with 74% of that budget comprised of expenditures related to programming; 16% capital costs; and 10% administration. Compared to the current 2020-21 budget, that amounts to an increase in spending of $373,155, or 0.3%.

The proposed tax levy, or amount to be raised by taxes, is $35,827,724, an increase of $668,034, or 1.9%. Projected tax rates for the 2021-22 school year per $1,000 assessed valuation are: Rome, $33.19; Annsville, $39.89; Lee, $721.87; Verona, $34.28; and Western, $41.39.

In the program portion of the budget, seeing the highest increase from budget-to-budget is teacher benefits, with an increase of $1,280,234, or 4.72%. Occupational education is increasing by $431,623 or 15.04%, and support learning will also increase by $70,272 or 0.42%. However overall, the program portion of the budget will decrease by $534,018 from 2020-21 to 2021-22, or 0.59%.

In the capital portion of the proposed spending plan, benefits again will see the largest increase from budget year to budget year, $224,844, or 9.17%. Bonds for construction will also increase by $387,264, or 5.56%.

And in the administration portion, again benefits will increase by $151,245, or 5.01%, and BOCES administration will see an increase of $41,609, or 3.85%.

Concerning revenue sources, 61% of the budget will be funded through state aid, Blake said, while 29% by property taxes.

During his presentation the superintendent also outlined some of the district’s challenges and responses, including federal aid requirements, the continuing rise in health insurance costs, transportation requests for proposals, the social and emotional welfare of students, class sizes at the elementary schools and the perceived loss of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As for federal funding, schools in need are getting funding assistance through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act. And the federal government has set up restrictions in how and where that money can be used.

“Despite some of the positive news that’s come out of the world of finance in New York State over the past two weeks, we still have some challenges,” Blake said. “The federal aid requirements will continue to be a challenge. While there is a nice pocket of money coming from the federal government, thanks to the code of the CARES Act and the previous relief acts, there are a lot of strings attached to some of the federal aid and there are a lot of hoops to jump through. So we will start developing our public plan for how we can expand those funds, but it’s not as simple as getting a blank check. There’s lots of ways that money has to be funneled and things that it can be used for, so we need to be extremely positive on what we plan to do with that.”

Good news, which was not available as of the last proposed budget presentation, the state has reinstated federal funding that it withheld in December, said Blake.

“We do know that the federal CARES Act money — we do know what that number looks like for the district,” he added. “Foundation aid has been significantly increased for this year and the state has committed to a full restoration of foundation aid over the next three school years. If the state follows through with that, and nothing changes in the next two fiscal years, we could see in total a restoration of approximately $14 to $15 million in state aid, and that’s extremely important because of the state foundation aid number. Once that minimum base is set, you can only go up from there. You can stay flat, but you’re not going backwards.”

As for the perceived loss of learning during COVID-19, whether or not remote learning will need to be required next school year and the social and emotional well-being of students, “We still have unknowns related to the reopening of schools, specifically for September 2021,” said the superintendent. “We do not know what that year is going to look like and what possible financial burden could come with that.”

Blake said the proposed spending plan keeps in mind a growing homeless student population, as well as an increase in the English New Language population. Four schools in the district have also been identified under Every Student Succeeds Act regulations and are being monitored. Arts, athletics, extracurricular activities and Advance Placement courses also continue to be a significant part of the student experience. Rome also has a Community Schools Program, which Blake said, will soon get recognition in a “prestigious” national educational journal.

“I believe it’s about a 12-page article — it’s their major feature article coming up,” said the superintendent. “So our Community Schools Program has been phenomenal and continues to grow, both in Rome and regionally.”

As for the proposed 2021-22 spending plan, “this is much more optimistic than in recent years,” the superintendent said.

There are 5,696 students enrolled in Rome City Schools, Blake shared earlier in the presentation. Cost to provide instruction is $21,628 for each child. Overall graduation rate for the district is 82%, and of that, 26% graduate with a Regents diploma.

There are three open seats for the Board of Education, each for three-year terms to run from July 1 through June 30, 2024.

Applications for candidates are still available at the district office. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s petitions will only require 50 qualified signatures, rather than 100. The deadline to submit applications is 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 28, to the school district Business Office.

Rome Chapter NAACP will host a Meet the Candidates night at 7 p.m. Monday, May 3, via Zoom.

In addition to the proposed spending plan and Board of Education candidates, there will also be library proposition on the ballot for Jervis Public Library. The library is proposing an $817,00 tax levy, which is a 0 percent increase from 2020-21.

Where to vote:

First Ward: Staley Elementary, 620 E. Bloomfield St.; Second Ward: Staley Elementary; Third Ward: Redeemer Church, 129 N. Washington St.; Fourth Ward: Gansevoort Elementary, 758 W. Liberty St.; Fifth Ward: Strough Middle School, 801 Laurel St.; Sixth Ward: St. Paul’s Church, 1807 Bedford St.; Seventh Ward: Copper City Community Connection, 305 E. Locust St.; Eighth Ward: Stokes Elementary School, 9095 Turin Road; Ninth Ward: Stokes Elementary; and Tenth Ward: Western Town Library, 9172 Main St., Westernville.

Other business:

• Superintendent Blake said despite the “hiccup” at Bellamy Elementary, which is on a full remote learning schedule until Monday due to teachers’ quarantine requirements and a lack of substitute teachers, the district was pleased to welcome back students last week and are “cautiously optimistic” that students will be able to remain in school buildings through the remainder of the school year.

• Mohawk Valley Health System will provide vaccine opportunities for high school students and more information will be available soon, Blake said. “It’s nice to know we have someone that’s trying to work with our students to help them get vaccinated, if they so desire,” the superintendent said.

• Lead water testing, which had been delayed for about two years, is being conducted in all 10 school buildings, starting with Bellamy because no pupils are reporting to the building at this time, said Blake. The testing began on Tuesday.

• Capital project work began at Rome Free Academy Monday with the masonry contractor on site and setting up scaffolding to replace the through wall flashing above the health office, guidance office and main office wing. The second phase of the project, which will be the pool and flat roof over the athletic facilities, will start at the beginning of June.

• Blake congratulated the music staff for the district being named a Best Community for Music Education once again, as well as the students and families who support the arts.

• The superintendent congratulated RFA juniors Dominick Cangialosi and Stone Mercurio, who participated in the first-ever Virtual Challenge Competition – sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory Information Directorate and supported by the Griffiss Institute. The pair finished third in the high-tech challenge.

• The VEX Robotics teams won the Northern New York State Championship last weekend and will move on to the state-wide championship, competing against downstate schools. “VEX has been a strong program for us over the years, and we look forward to hearing about their continued success in the future,” Blake said.

• Board President Paul Haggerty and Vice-president Tanya Davis were recognized by the state School Board Association, receiving recognition for their dedication to the district and board functions. Haggerty has been designated a Level 2 Board Excellence Award member, while Davis was designated a Level 1.

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