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Westfield school presents proposed budget

WESTFIELD — The Westfield Academy and Central School Board of Education members approved a proposed 2021-22 budget at their regular meeting on April 12 that includes a smaller tax levy increase than had originally been projected.

Board members voted to approve the $16,993,953 budget as presented with the provision that the proposed tax levy increase of more than $119,000, or 1.9%, be decreased by $50,000. This placed the tax levy increase at $69,676, or 1.14%. The decrease was made possible by an increase of state aid from the 2020-2021 budget to the proposed 2021-2022 budget of about $358,755.

Portions of the increased aid will be dedicated to meeting the learning needs that students have experienced during the pandemic.

Board members spent some time debating the long-term effects of having a tax levy increase as opposed to having no increase at all. Tom Tarpley, board member, opened the discussion by asking if the unanticipated aid should be used to keep the tax levy at its current rate.

“We are in a pandemic and many of our families do not have jobs,” Tarpley said. “To ask our taxpayers to pay additional taxes in light of the pandemic and in light of the money that has come to us, is that too much to ask?”

Several of the board members expressed the opinion, however, that having no tax levy increase would hurt the district in the long run. It was noted that the tax cap each year is calculated on the previous year’s levy. Board member Steve Cockram noted class sizes are small at this point because of the pandemic, but will increase as in-person learning returns to normal. This would put a strain on programming, he said.

“To keep taxes at their lowest, we could risk losing programs,” he said. “We have to assess how comfortable we are to see class size increase.”

Board member Deanne Manzella noted that the school district has many contracts with various vendors that include an average increase of 1.5% each year.

“Every year that we don’t have something that helps pay for the increase puts us further and further behind,” Manzella said. “I have a hard time with zero percent because of our contracts and our commitment for our children.”

Several board members pointed out that the district is receiving federal aid because of the pandemic and this will not likely be repeated. Also, the state aid is uncertain from year to year.

“I fear that a year from now or five years from now, the state may have a budget collapse and go back to something like the gap elimination program,” Cockram said.

Board president Wendy Dyment said that she believed a zero percent increase could result in program cuts in the future.

“I would hate to see more losses. A lot of districts have seen that happen,” she said. “I’m concerned about the impact on our district.”

After much more discussion, board members agreed to pass the budget as presented with a $50,000 reduction in the tax levy amount.

The public vote on the budget will be held on May 18 from noon to 8:00 p.m. in the gym atrium. The vote will be in-person unless state guidelines prohibit it at that time.

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