2020-21 budget and school board elections, mail-in ballot voting ends June 9 at 5 p.m.

District faces severe state revenue losses/cuts due to COVID-19

Greater Amsterdam School District residents are being asked to vote on a proposed $75,918,919 budget for the 2020-21 school year by mail-in ballot only. Ballots must be received by 5 p.m. June 9 to qualify.

A public hearing on the proposed budget was held on Tuesday, May 26. WATCH RECORDED HEARING ON THE GASD YOUTUBE CHANNEL

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the extreme economic strain this has placed on New York state and resulting state aid to schools, GASD and other school districts faced one of the most difficult budget preparation processes in years. After months of review, the Board of Education adopted a proposed 2020-21 budget on May 19 with a spending decrease of 1.66 percent or $1,283,768 under the current year budget and a tax levy increase of 3 percent or $626,255. GASD has had four straight years of 0 percent tax levy increases while the cost of living over that time has risen 6-8 percent.

The 3 percent increase (NOT 3.2 percent as reported in the Amsterdam Recorder), however, is below the district’s calculated tax levy “cap” of 8.62 percent so a simple majority of voters (more than 50 percent) is required for budget approval. Even with the proposed tax levy increase, residents living in seven of GASD’s eight municipalities will actually see a drop in their property tax rates in 2020-21. Only property owners in the City of Amsterdam would see a tax rate increase estimated at about $107.72 a year or $8.97 a month for a property assessed at $100,000.

Following adoption of the NYS budget on April 1 and the reduction in state aid to schools due to the state’s $10-$15 billion deficit, GASD was forced to make its own reductions to meet the loss of state revenues. Some $2.8 million in cuts were made over the budget district officials first outlined in January prior to the onset of COVID-19.

Compounding the problem, the state budget also calls for multiple “look back” periods to allow NYS to assess its revenues, make adjustments and possibly further reduce aid payments to school districts based on what state revenues are available. While NYS hopes for federal stimulus money to help mitigate revenue losses for schools, GASD was forced to adopt a budget to meet the voting deadline on the philosophy “hope for the best but plan for the worst.”

The proposed GASD budget approximates a 20-percent reduction in state aid in 2020-21, calling for the elimination of the equivalent of 28.5 staff positions, including eight layoffs. While current academic programming and extracurricular activities and clubs for students would remain intact, eliminated next year would be $75,000 from the athletics budget, student field trips, transportation for Pre-K children, non-mandated transportation for private and parochial school students living outside the district limits, the grant writing service, equipment purchases and clerical substitute positions.

In the case of staff reductions, which includes administrators, teachers, aides , etc., the district looked, wherever possible, to retirements, the use of federal grant funding, and leaving unfilled positions vacant to help curtail the loss of jobs. Reductions to athletics were made with the mindset of minimizing the impact on students by focusing on sports with the lowest participation.

What happens if the budget is defeated?

If the district budget is defeated and the Board of Education is forced to adopt a contingency budget, state law mandates a school district must adopt a budget with no tax levy increase and eliminate all non-contingent expenses, such as certain student supplies, certain equipment purchases and the free community use of school facilities (the district must charge a fee). The administrative budget would also be subject to certain restrictions. If the district was forced to adopt a contingent budget for 2020-21, a minimum of another $626,255 in budget cuts would have to be made. This would include the elimination of all interscholastic athletic programs, extracurricular clubs and activities, use of district facilities (unless paid for and no district expense incurred) and bus purchases among other items.

Other propositions on this year’s ballot

Proposition #2: Bus Purchase Proposition

GASD residents will be asked to vote on a proposition allowing for the purchase of two school buses and security cameras at an estimated cost of $225,000, with 90 percent of the cost eligible for state aid reimbursement. The district owns 15 school buses, eight of which have or are approaching the 100,000-mile odometer mark. If approved by voters, the school buses would be purchased through the bus reserve fund with no tax impact on the district taxpayers.

Proposition #3: Voter Registration Proposition

School district voters will be asked to approve a proposition enabling personal registration of voters for school district elections and votes to occur on any school business day from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the District Clerk’s office and during any registration dates designed by the school board prior to the annual election and vote or any special vote, effective July 1, 2020. No person, however, would be permitted to register to vote in a school district election or vote less than five days preceding each election or vote.

Proposition #4: Amsterdam Free Library Proposition

School district voters will be asked to approve a proposition authorizing GASD to levy taxes in the amount of $240,000 to support the Amsterdam Free Library for library services during the 2020-21 fiscal year and each year thereafter.

Residents will also elect candidates to fill three open seats on the Board of Education

Five people have submitted petitions to run for three seats open July 1, 2020 on the Amsterdam Board of Education. Due to COVID-19 and Gov. Cuomo’s executive order, no petition signatures were required to run in 2020 and candidates could self-nominate themselves to appear on the election ballot. Each seat carries a three-year term. Like the budget vote, this year’s election will be held by mail-in ballot only, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Gov. Cuomo’s executive order. 2020 candidates are incumbent board members Dr. Nellie Bush, Rev. Kent McHeard, Deana Mancini, and newcomers Thomas J. Coughlin, Jr. and James P. Walrath. The three candidates receiving the highest vote totals will be elected to the Board of Education.

Voting Information for June 9 budget vote/election

Pursuant to Executive Order No. 202.26 issued on May 1, 2020 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, all voting for the June 9, 2020 election will be done by absentee ballot such that the school district must send absentee ballots with a postage paid return envelope to each “qualified voter.” A qualified voter is someone who is a U.S. citizen, 18 years of age, a resident of the District for at least 30 days prior to the vote. Qualified voters on the most recent years’ poll lists will be automatically sent an absentee ballot. Anyone who meets the definition of a “qualified voter,” but does not believe he/she will be on the school district’s poll list, which contains the names of residents who voted in recent years’ elections, please contact the District Clerk, by email at districtclerk@gasd.org as soon as possible to ensure timely receipt of an absentee ballot for the 2020 annual vote/election. All ballots must be received by 5 p.m. on June 9, 2020, to qualify.