Planning ahead: Palmyra school district budgeting now for capital improvements later

At Wednesday’s Board of Education Public Hearing, the board discussed the importance of making long-range plans for the district’s facilities.

During the Palmyra school district’s public budget hearing on Wednesday, May 3, business administrator and board secretary Todd Reitzel devoted most of time to discussing the approximately $300,000 budgeted for capital expenses, which ultimately became the main topic of conversation for board members and the public.

As presented, the total 2017–2018 budget is $18.01 million, with $10.22 million to be raised through taxation. If the budget is approved as presented, the average Palmyra home valued at $147,605 will see a school tax increase of approximately $101 per year, and the tax rate per $100 of assessed home value will rise by 7 cents. The board budgeted $293,645 to go directly to a capital reserve fund for architectural design planning for future updates and upgrades to existing facilities

“The board made a concerted effort to put money into capital expenses this year to improve our existing facilities,” Reitzel said. “We feel that improving the facilities will increase pride, performance and retention.”

This year’s budget has the district looking at ways to improve the long-range facilities plan, which has not been updated in several years, Reitzel said.The goal is to have the plan forecast the capital improvements to be made within the district over the next 10 years.

Reitzel was met with inquiries regarding renovations at the district’s three schools.

“What ideas are we throwing around for capital improvement changes?” Board of Education president Nancy Brett asked following Reitzel’s presentation.

Reitzel said the district is in the process of making targeted improvements with the current year’s money, but looking forward, the district plans to bring in an architect to do an architectural design study.

He said rather than telling an architect what needs to be done, the district wants an architect to examine the three schools and make suggestions on how the schools could be improved. From there, he said the board would take the suggestions and decide which direction to go.

“We want to spend the money, but we want to spend it wisely,” Reitzel said.

Board member Sean Toner said before any changes to the facilities can take place, the board needs to do a program review. He said any physical changes to the schools should be tied back to the programs they’re trying to implement within the classrooms.

“Really, it’s what do we need to do to in order to keep ourselves competitive and serve the district as best as possible,” Toner said.

Reitzel said a well-thought-out plan is going to take three years to implement, and so now is the time to start mapping out any changes to the facilities.

Parent Lisa Jablonski questioned whether air conditioning in locations at Palmyra High School would figure into the capital improvements.

Reitzel said air conditioning would fall under the list of items the district would have an architect assess during a design study.

“What I’d like this $300,000 to be is things that you can see,” Reitzel said. “I would like the taxpayer to say that’s what I spent my money on.”

The board will vote to adopt the 2017–2018 budget at its next meeting on Wednesday, May 10 at 7 p.m.