by Janet Schultz
The Lewiston-Porter School District is facing a 4.2 percent increase in its 2011-12 budget that in normal times would not be a major problem. However with New York state calling for a reduction in state aid to Lew-Port of $2.3 million, the increase will have to be made up within the district. Lew-Port's proposed budget for 2011-12 is $41,779,619, up $1,684,961 from 2010-11.
At Tuesday's meeting, the Lewiston-Porter Board of Education heard of major increases in electricity and transportation costs. Lew-Port faces a 162 percent increase over last year in that line and a 97 percent increase in diesel fuel costs.
"If you've looked at your electric bill lately, you will understand," said Superintendent Christopher Roser. "We have a $4 million gap to make up."
Other areas experiencing increases include special education, up 23 percent; salaries, 25 percent; employees retirement system, 38 percent; TRS retirement system, 22 percent; and health insurance, 11 percent.
"We are looking at several things that will meet with the board's desire to keep a 0 percent tax levy increase," Roser continued.
"These are not easy times for many school districts," said Roser. "We have some ideas and don't want to cut programs. The board, administration and staff agree on that."
The Lewiston-Porter Board of Education will hold budget workshops, Tuesdays, March 22 and 29, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the board meeting room at the Community Resource Center on the Lew-Port Creek Road campus. The BOE will hold a special meeting on the budget on Thursday, April 14, at 6:30 p.m. at the Community Resource Center to approve the 2011-12 budget.
Former Lew-Port board member Keith Fox asked the board about the possibility of the district granting a reduction on property taxes to qualifying senior citizens. As a tax preparer, Fox said he has found that many seniors are in danger of losing their homes due to high taxes.
"At present, I believe Lew-Port is operating under exemptions put in place in 2004," said Fox. "That's eight years ago. They are woefully out of date."
He said Lewiston-Porter's current 50 percent tax exemption base is for an income of $15,026 and it affects about 42 people. Increasing the base exemption to $26,000 would affect 77 people. Fox said he felt the impact of any loss of tax revenue to the district would be small and that it would allow seniors to remain in their homes, "continuing to live an independent life."
He asked the board to develop a proposal for the voters as soon as possible.
Fox has also made it public that he will be running for the board in the upcoming election.
The BOE at Tuesday's session approved the details of the district's annual meeting, vote and election. Petitions for nomination of a candidate for the Board of Education are available at the district offices or on the Lew-Port website, www.lew-port.com. All petitions must be returned to Lewiston-Porter District Clerk Elizabeth Bajor by 5 p.m. Monday, April 18. The drawing for positions on the ballot will be held the following day.
Voter propositions must be submitted no later than April 2 or March 28, depending on the proposition's content. The annual budget hearing will be held Tuesday, May 10.
The election/vote will be held Tuesday, May 17, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Community Resource Center.
In other board business:
•The BOE received a report on the New York State School Boards Association meeting in Albany that focused on budget issues and offered some suggestions as to how school districts can look at handling state aid cuts.
•Board member Wendy Swearingen reported on her attending the National Strategy Meeting on Contaminated Schools, and explained proposed guidelines presented by the EPA in how to handle issues relating to schools built near environmentally hazardous areas.
"If Lew-Port was being built today, it would not be allowed to be built on this site," she explained. "They found that children exposed to toxins have long-lasting effects that go well into adulthood."
The conference concluded with a proposal to keep the dialogue going and create an alliance that meets periodically.
"The EPA is looking for input from the public, environmental groups, schools and others before they finalize the guidelines," explained Swearingen.
The School Site Guidelines can be found on the EPA's website at http://www.epa.gov/schools1/epa_school_siting_guidelines.pdf.
•Assistant Superintendent Don Rappold explained the BOCES section of the proposed 2011-12 budget to board members, noting that BOCES is an extension of Lew-Port and the BOCES budget accounts for $4,425,064 of the Lew-Port budget.
•In a 4-2 vote, the board removed its approval of an employment contract with Lew-Port Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds David Quattrini from this month's agenda and agreed to put it back on the agenda when a new budget is approved. Robert Weller and Jodee Riordan voted against removing the item from Tuesday's agenda.
"In this economy, we are asking the district to make concessions, the state is acting for cuts and the taxpayers are overburdened. I feel it is inappropriate to hand out raises at this time," said Weller.
"I agree with Mr. Weller," said board member Edward Waller. "It's not the right time and place."
•The board accepted the resignation of school monitor Linda Seiler, effective Feb. 15.
•The board approved the appointment of Amanda Donnelly as a physical education teacher in the Primary Education Center.
•The board recognized student musicians who will be participating in All-County Music Festival. The session opened with the national anthem performed by Lew-Port musicians Steve Fleck, Rebecca Forney and Joe Morinello.
Diane Christman, parent of a Lew-Port music student, addressed the board on the importance of music in not only her son's life, but also the lives of other students. She spoke of the growth in the music program since her attendance at the district and how her son has had the opportunity to travel to Australia and participate in statewide band competitions, which have added to his confidence and his academics. She encouraged the board to continue offering music and replacing music teachers who have retired, in spite of budget issues.
•Upcoming activities at Lewiston-Porter include participation in the Art Festival for all districts being held at Niagara Falls High School March 26; a science fair scheduled in the Intermediate Education Center on Wednesday, March 23, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and the Intermediate Education Center musical on Friday, April 8.
Students from the high school will travel to Germany and China as part of the school's international program and a group of students from France will arrive at Lew-Port on April 14.
The high school is also selling fish frys on Friday nights from 4 to 7 p.m. during Lent.