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Amity Referendum Set for May 3

Amity Referendum Set for May 3

People who have questions about the Amity budget for the 2022-23 school year can follow the presentation at the District Annual Meeting on Monday, May 2, at 5:30 p.m. in the presentation room at the District offices in Woodbridge.  School Supt., Dr. Jennifer Byars, will present the budget, but there will be no vote taken at that time.  As is customary, the vote will be by referendum the next day, on Tuesday, May 3, in the three member towns.  Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the regular voting locations.

The district, which includes Amity High School and the two middle schools, one in Bethany, the other in Orange, is requesting a $53.7 million budget, which represents a 3.99 percent increase over this year’s, an increase of just over $2 million.  According to the superintendent, the increase is due in large part to increases in salaries and benefits (+$1 million and $622,000, respectively); a $278,500 increase in transportation costs; $183,500 in special education increases and a $32,500 increase in liability insurance.

The budget adds 7.2 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions to the three schools, namely a special education teacher and a mental health clinician; two digital media teachers at the middle schools; a new position to facilitate diversity, equity and inclusion into the curriculum; one cybertechnology specialist and one additional security guard at the high school.

Broken down per member town, based on their respective number of students, Orange will see a $1.3 million increase ($26,575,116 total); Woodbridge will see a $921,000 increase ($17,197,401 total) while Bethany’s allocation will barely change at all ($8,988,339 total).

The Amity Board of Education, after initially entertaining a 4.9% increase, agreed with the recommendation of the Amity Finance Committee (AFC) to cut back the Medical Reserve and thereby arrive at an overall budget increase of 3.99 percent.  The AFC consists of two representatives of each member town – one typically from the town’s Board of Finance, the other a member of the ABOE.

The total number of students that this budget is based on is 2,166, a decrease of 68 students from this year.  The budget document posted on the District website (https://resources.finalsite.net/images/v1648047146/amityregion5org/ntmshdlmqq2zjzplsuoy/BoardofEducationApprovedBudget2022-2023.pdf) provides an explanation for staff increases in spite of an overall smaller student body.  Total staff went from 318.7 to 329 FTE positions, or a net increase of 10.3 over the past five-year period.  The increase came primarily to increase security, pupil services, special education and technology.

In response to questions from the Board of Education members, the district spelled out considerations when it comes to staffing levels.  Those factors include:

  1. The courses students need to fulfill the state graduation requirements;
  2. Electives – The eight-period schedule provides students with the opportunity to take more courses;
  3. Class sizes are specified in teachers’ contracts. A drop of 30 students will be spread between the three schools, and does not mean a teacher position can be eliminated;
  4. Program enhancements – The District has added Acting and Directing for Film; Advanced Technical Theater, pottery and ceramics, Expository Writing changed to Writing College, and Career Readiness;
  5. Security – The District has added 2 full-time guards and 3 part-time guards to cover evenings and increase middle school coverage;
  6. Special Education/Pupil Services – Students may need one-on-one learning assistance to meet their special needs. The District has added social workers to all the schools since 2020-21, two positions at the high school and one at each middle school.

Capital Plan:  At the high school:  asphalt sealing and crack repair ($15,000); sidewalk repair ($10,000); replace pipe insulation ($5,000); and install protective window film ($5,000). replace chilled underground water lines ($45,000) for a total of $80,000.

At the Bethany Middle School:  asphalt sealing and crack repair ($14,000); replace pipe insulation ($2,000); concrete repair ($5,000); protective window film ($5,000); and repair the courtyard ($30,000).

At the Orange Middle School:  install protective window film ($2,000), concrete repair ($5,000) and asphalt sealing ($10,000); also, a contingency fund of $100,000.

In a separate chart, the document shows additional building-related capital items, some of which have separate funding sources, and some of which are already underway.

At the High School the capital plan includes a remodel of the Lecture Hall ($110,000), and two items related to the new stadium field, namely a culvert cleanout at $35,000 and “chiller refurbishes-adaptive frequency drive” ($97,000) which could be paid for with money left over from the installation of the new track and field installation.

The relocation of the record room from the District offices to the Orange Middle School basement was scheduled to take place during April Break.  The records include personnel files, special ed files and general documents such as meeting minutes and more.  The space in the Middle School is available, it is big enough to accommodate the file cabinets and has room to grow, Dr. Byars said at the March 28 Facilities meeting.

Capital items also include security cameras, for which they hope to get a grant ($69,075).

Surplus:  The Amity Board of Education has been getting a lot of pushback for its large budget surpluses.  James Leahy, Vice Chairman of the Orange Board of Finance, has taken every opportunity to bring his message to the voting public, including addressing the Amity Board of Education directly before it was slated to vote on the budget; and, most recently, at the March Orange Board of Selectmen meeting, which is broadcast via OGAT on YouTube.

“Over the past five years, the sources of unspent fund balance at year-end have been from financial management (i.e. efficiencies); special education (e.g., previously outplaced students returning to the District); and other circumstances (e.g., higher staff turnover than projected; more unpaid leaves-of-absence than anticipated; lower medical and dental claims than expected).  We have used aggressive negotiations, energy conservation measures, refinanced existing debt, and many other initiatives to find and implement cost savings and efficiencies over the years,” the budget document states.

Savings in medical costs often contributed to the surpluses.  “The District switched to a self-insured plan in fiscal year 2012-2013.  We saved about one-half million dollars each year in administration costs and over 3 million lower than expected claims.  Actual claims were lower than expected claims by almost 1 million dollars in fiscal year 2019 and 2020.  The claims in 2020 and 2021 were significantly reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Routine medical treatments, procedures and hospitalizations were deferred for patients to limit exposure to COVID-19 and to reserve medical resources to those infected with the virus.”

The five-year average unspent fund balance was $2,489,893, most of which the board has returned to the member towns.  Despite the legal authority to spend all of the budgeted expenditures, the Amity Board of Education has returned to the member towns, or designated for the subsequent budget (thus, reducing the member towns’ allocations) 82.8 percent, or a five-year average of $1,929,181.

The money that was not returned to the towns has been used to pay for large facility repairs, to build-up the reserves in the Self-Insurance Reserve Fund, as well as capital reserve and technology purchases.

At the end of the 2018-19 year the district returned over $2 million to the three member towns; in 2019-20 it was just under $2 million; and in 2020-21 it returned $2.4 million.  “This is savings of taxpayer dollars, and were returned to the member towns,” it states.  “This is savings of taxpayer dollars, and were returned to the member towns,” it states.

By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent

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