by Susan Mikula Campbell
Niagara-Wheatfield's $62.9 million 2011-12 budget goes to the voters on Tuesday, May 17.
The budget, which is actually less than the current year's budget, but carries an expected 2.9 percent tax rate increase due to increasing costs and a more than $4 million state aid cut, has brought many questions and objections from residents.
"We're not blaming the state; it's just a sense of reality as to where our schools are at this time," said N-W Superintendent Carl Militello of cutbacks shared by school boards across the state.
The budget approved by the board does include cuts in staff, which are likely to result in layoffs, where there are no retirements.
Positions originally cut included the director of human resources, the athletic director, seven elementary teachers, three library media specialists, a music teacher, a literacy specialist, a science teacher, a social studies teacher, an art teacher, a business teacher, two physical education teachers, a credit recovery teacher, a .2 Latin teacher, a .4 health teacher, five part-time monitors, a library clerk typist, a strength and conditioning coach, an athletic trainer, a .4 school resource officer and one counseling intern.
Since those cuts were presented, the school board did reinstate a librarian to serve all elementary buildings, a physical education teacher to meet state mandates and the .4 health teacher.
Militello said class sizes will remain low and equal in the elementary buildings.
Other questions that have come up at recent public hearings on the budget include:
•What happens if the budget is defeated on May 17?
Militello: The board could decide to put up the same budget for another vote or reduce the budget and be faced with even tougher reductions and cuts. If the budget fails again, a contingency budget would be put in place and the board has the prerogative to set the tax levy to meet the education and instructional needs of the district. Groups that use the schools for after-school programs would have to pay for use of the facilities and there would be restrictions on morning and afternoon busing.
"Nothing good comes from a defeated budget," Militello said.
•Did layoffs occur because of the district spending on programs and textbooks?
Militello: No. Financial issues are not due to programs that have increased student achievement or the quality of culture at Niagara-Wheatfield. Since 2008, the curriculum development budget line has been reduced by $423,400. Every district is allocated an aideable amount for textbooks dependent upon student enrollment. Textbook money is a use-it-or-lose it concept. This year's textbook allocation was $270,000.
•Did Niagara Wheatfield overspend the budget this year?
Militello: No. Niagara-Wheatfield has a $69 million budget. It spent $64.86 million. It is impossible to overspend the budget. The auditors and the State Education Department would not allow the district to operate in the red.
He also noted the fund balance going into next year is adequate.
•Were collective bargaining groups offered a chance to give financial contributions in order to prevent layoffs and program reductions?
•Is the district looking for further savings by implementing a retirement incentive?
Militello: Yes. The district is offering a retirement incentive to 21 teacher union members and 27 non-instructional union members. Their acceptance of the retirement agreement is due by May 16.
•Did the superintendent receive a pay raise?
Militello: No. He voluntarily took a $4,900 reduction in his salary and removed the mileage reimbursement clause from his contract.
Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Adult Learning Center at Niagara-Wheatfield High School on Saunders Settlement Road.