By Rich Place
The West Valley School Board of Education was forced to adopt a contingency budget for the 2018-19 school year after district residents on Tuesday again defeated the budget proposition during a re-vote.
The failed budget proposition comes at an interesting time for West Valley, as it was in the initial stages of a potentially full annexation study with a neighboring school district, depending on results of a pre-annexation study completed by education consultants Castallo & Silky.
The pre-annexation study was scheduled to be presented during a special board meeting on Thursday after press time for this edition.
The budget failed, 219-167, and a bus proposition that was defeated in May also failed again, 210-172. The 2018-19 school year will mark the second time in three years West Valley will operate under a contingency budget after the budget proposition also failed to pass in 2016.
“I don’t know,” said Superintendent Eric Lawton about why he believes the budget was voted down a second time. “We really explained, I thought, fairly well to the people who were at the (public hearing) that if we are on a contingent budget we cannot do a full (annexation) study.”
Lawton on Tuesday said the district had three options examined in the pre-annexation study: annex the West Valley Central School District with neighboring Springville-Griffith Institute or Ellicottville or remain on its own. If the study concluded that annexing is a favorable option, the next logical step is to proceed with a full annexation study with that school district, he said, a cost split between both districts.
Lawton said he has talked to multiple attorneys or those knowledgeable with such a scenario and was advised an annexation study is not a contingent expense allowed under such a budget.
“If you ask any administrator they’ll tell you this does not count as a contingent expense,” he said. “I don’t know of any organization willing to take on the study if they don’t know if they’ll get paid.”
During the public hearing on the budget earlier this month, school officials — including Lawton, school business official Ann O’Brien and school board president Stephen Kowalski — all agreed they felt conducting an annexation study would be challenged.
“And the preponderance was, we would lose,” Kowalski had noted at that meeting.
The failed vote on Tuesday was the same budget put forward to district voters in May. It failed to pass that time, 181-152.
When the budget failed in 2016, the board opted to instead immediately adopt a contingency spending plan for the 2016-17 school year instead of putting the budget up again for a re-vote.
A contingency budget for the upcoming school year funds only teachers’ salaries and items deemed ordinary contingent expenses by the school board. Many school activities, if coordinated by the school, are not directly impacted.
Other than its potential impact on an annexation study, a contingency budget forces the school to charge for use of the school building if the district incurs a cost, Lawton said.
“We as a district cannot incur any cost to the taxpayers outside of the education of the students,” he said.
That includes groups like the town’s summer recreation program, which would traditionally use the school buses for transportation. Lawton said the school and town of Ashford has a cooperative relationship — trading snow removal for help during the summer recreation program, for example — but that can’t happen under a contingency spending plan.
“I feel bad because we have to charge them now,” he said. “I hate to do it because it’s for the kids.”
The school board did not meet following results of the vote on Tuesday after it was predetermined they would officially accept the results on Thursday prior to the pre-annexation study meeting.
The failed budget proposition was a $9.18 million spending plan that originally included a 2 percent increase in the tax levy. A contingency spending plan will be adopted with no increase in the tax levy; the exact figure of the budget was expected to be presented to the board during its Thursday meeting.