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Hamburg school officials tackle gap elimination adjustment

TAKE A BOW — During the most recent Hamburg School Board meeting, members recognized district students, dressed in “Peter Pan” outfits, for their recent performance. Photo by Steve Dlugosz.
HAMBURG — During the past four years, the Hamburg Central School District has incurred a loss of $15,488,304 in state aid, through gap elimination adjustment mandates set forth by New York state.

Faced with the recent financial crunch that has handcuffed many Western New York districts during budget planning, Hamburg School District officials unanimously passed a resolution that establishes its opposition to the GEA, during a meeting held Feb. 11.

Director of Administrative Services Barbara Sporyz outlined various budget parameters as part of 2014 – 2015 planning. She said that state officials had established the GEA in 2010 as a one-time expenditure, in a stated effort of recapturing funding to balance the state budget.

It was added that such mandates to local school districts have remained in place, taking a chunk of state aid away from schools.

A rally to restore GEA funding cuts will take place from 7 – 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 27 at Kenmore High School, located at 350 Fries Road in Tonawanda. It is anticipated that Hamburg School Board members – to go along with other legislative and school officials from across WNY – will attend the event.

Hamburg is facing a GEA of $2,530,628 for 2014 – 2015. Sporyz said that delays in project/building aid to the district will further eat away at state-given assistance. The 2014 – 2015 aid had been projected at $21,999,450, compared to the 2013 – 2014 budgeted amount of $20,470,271.

The allowable tax base growth for the upcoming school year was said to be 1.0044 percent, equating to a preliminary tax levy limit of $34,938,190, an amount that would need a simple majority (50 percent plus one) approval by district voters, as opposed to a supermajority (60 percent) of voter approval required for any taxable amount above the listed levy limit.

The 2013 – 2014 tax levy limit in Hamburg is $33,519,094, with town of Hamburg residents’ paying a tax rate of $33.91 per $1,000 of assessed property value; town of Eden residents, $29.80; town of Orchard Park residents, $34.50 and town of Boston residents, $19.86. Those rates marked an increase of 5.4 percent from the 2012 – 2013 rate.

According to Sporyz, district officials are expected to allocate $1.25 million in fund balance reserves toward the area of budgeted revenue for the next school year, compared to previous appropriations in reserves of $4,268,472 in 2013 – 2014; $1,957,836 in 2012 – 2013; $2,453,977 in 2011 – 2012; $4,212,289 in 2010 – 2011 and $2,000,053 in 2009 – 2010.

Administrators reported that, during the last five budgeted years, teacher and employee retirement system costs not controlled by the district have risen considerably.

In other meeting action, Interim District Superintendent Richard Jetter – recently identified as one of three main candidates for the permanent superintendent position, along with Mount Morris School District Superintendent Dawn Mirand and Depew Superintendent Jeffrey Rabey – described a soon-to-be-implemented intentional school district improvement plan, based on students’ perceptions and subsequent data.

Jetter reported that the improvement plan includes garnering school perceptions from pupils from intermediate, middle and high school buildings and incorporate demographic data, as well as assessments from increased student learning (not to be confused, he said, with Common Core curriculum).

Informal check-ins from teachers regarding students’ thoughts, with survey usage based on those perceptions, were said to be formulated in a useful compilation.

“Research shows that when workers and clients are surveyed through Gallup®, [studies indicate] that, as worker perception increases, productivity and happiness goes up,” Jetter said, adding that his prior work experience in North Tonawanda schools included a similar study that generated positive results.

“The goal is to get [students’ stated results to be], ‘This school is meeting my expectations.’ If results do not show that, we’ll start from scratch again and put an action plan together.”

The interim superintendent said that the process includes students’ reporting their thoughts on the [school’s] overall organization, and a “core” team meeting with students for further feedback, as part of the survey. A survey also includes thoughts on teachers, although that part was said to be anonymous.

In other board news:
– A meet-and-greet board session was held with new district attorney Hodgson Russ LLP. In attendance were that firm’s speaking representatives, including Andrew Freedman, who has 16 years of experience mainly in board governance and student issues, and who teaches school law at Buffalo State College and the University at Buffalo Law School; Liz Carlson, whose expertise mainly includes being an attorney in employment and labor and John Christopher, who has 25 years of experience in related labor/employment and education/practice issues.

Freedman noted that Hodgson & Russ represents about 90 school districts across the state and had previously represented Hamburg. “It’s great to be back, and thank you for the opportunity,” Freedman said.

– District officials approved an incentive plan for employees who retire this year, a plan that will include the district’s paying 100 percent of single teachers’ health insurance policies for four years, along with 50 percent of the cost of a family plan for four years.

Other plan parameters include staff members who earn $32,000 a year or less receiving $4,000 a year for three years for health care costs; those who earn more than $32,000 will receive $5,000 per year for three years, for their health care costs.

The next meeting of the Hamburg Central School Board will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 11 at Union Pleasant Elementary School.
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