Hornell schools chief says district striving to maintain, expand opportunities

HORNELL — With approximately four months until the budget vote in the Hornell City School District on May 21, Superintendent Jeremy Palotti Wednesday outlined the district’s program goals for the 2019-20 budget, along with some of the factors that will influence the development of the spending plan.

The top item on Hornell’s school “budget assumptions” listed by Palotti is this: No cuts in educational programs or staffing.

Palotti, who made the district’s first budget presentation of the new year during a school board meeting in the high school library, noted that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will release an executive budget proposal later this month.

Cuomo’s plan for education spending and aid to the state’s approximately 950 public schools “will provide a key starting point for us,” Palotti said.

The school superintendent pointed out that state aid provides the largest percentage, by far, of the district’s annual revenue. Cuomo’s budget proposal will be studied by the State Legislature, which will have some of its own ideas about education spending levels. Hornell budget makers will plug in the governor’s proposed aid amount until a final state budget is adopted by the Legislature. The deadline for the state budget is April 1.

Other factors that remain unknown right now but will impact Hornell’s adopted budget are health insurance costs, workers compensation insurance rates, the GST BOCES budget and the city school district’s tax cap for the 2019-2020 spending plan, Palotti said.

“When we meet next month, we should have some of these pieces,” Palotti said of the February school board meeting.

Palotti said Hornell is developing its budget in line with priorities that were identified in the district’s 2018 “Needs Assessment." In addition to a continuation of current programming and staffing levels, Palotti said the district plans to

- Add a librarian/literacy specialist at the Intermediate School;

- Continue elementary school art, PK-third grade;

- Add a music teacher for grades 7-12;

- Maintain the school district's current lease/replacement program for school buses;

- Include regular capital outlay projects within the school budget;

- Continue professional development for teachers, administrators and staff.

With plenty of heavy lifting still to come during the budget process, Palotti said the agenda going forward will include meetings with administrators to discuss staffing and programs, outreach to state lawmakers to advocate for the school’s needs, identifying efficiencies and working with grant writers to find funding sources for important programs.

In official action yesterday, the school board

- Approved the proposed History Club trip to Europe with tentative travel dates of June 28-July 6, 2020.

- Accepted a grant-in-aid of $20,000 from the New York state Education Department.

“We are very grateful for this,” said Palotti, who explained that the grant is from the state legislative budget through the office of Sen. Tom O’Mara, a Republican from Big Flats.

- Agreed to the “Corrective Action Plan” in response to an the independent audit of the district presented last June.

Approved the three-year probationary appointment of Todd M. Goho as special education teacher, effective Dec. 22, 2018; the four-year probationary appointment of Casey McHale Johnson as speech language pathologist effective Jan. 28, 2019; the four-year probationary appointment of Briana Hollenback as elementary teacher, effective on or about Jan. 21, 2019.

The next regular meeting of the the Hornell School Board is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., Feb. 6, in the high school library.