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N-W going to voters with 9.9 percent tax increase

by jmaloni
Thu, Mar 29th 2012 07:00 am

Speakers support music program

by Janet Schultz

The Niagara-Wheatfield Board of Education meeting started out on a high note on March 21 with a commendation to Natalie Borga, named 2012 valedictorian.

Borga has a 100 percent plus average, is active in numerous school organizations and does community service.

The meeting took a turn when more than 30 people signed in to speak during the public comment portion.

For two hours students, parents and teachers came forward to plead to save the music program in the K-5 grade levels. Each voiced how music was an integral part of their life or their child's life.

Plus, before the night ended, the board decided a 9.9 percent tax levy increase will be necessary this year, which will mean the budget must be approved by 60 percent of the qualified voters voting on it.

During the public comment period, several speakers spoke to the fact they won't mind a slight tax increase if it were to save the music program. They spoke out to the fact that Niagara-Wheatfield, historically, has been known for its outstanding music program, and that each year, significant numbers of students go on to All-County and All-State competition. Many of the students are planning careers as music educators or performers.

"Many student careers in music began in the fifth grade," said Andrew Zuccari, a music student. "I want to be a musician. If they cut music in fifth grade, those students won't have the chance I did."

One student challenged the board to turn off their CD players, radio and televisions and go without music for a day to see what it would be like in a world without music "that you created" by eliminating the program.

Maxwell Antone, a N-W wrestler who placed second in the states competition in wrestling, said he'd actually give up his wrestling for music.

"Why is art always the first cut?" asked one parent. "You want to give students a well-rounded education and music is part of our soul. We need these programs for our children."

One of the final speakers of the evening was former board member Mike Murawski, who told those attending that the district was in a tough financial situation and that he sees that going on for the next several years.

"We all have to give something up," he explained. "We can't have what we had in the past."

"The board is looking like the bad guys. They don't want to make cuts, they have to make cuts," Murawski continued. "In the 1990s, the district was an embarrassment. Facilities were falling apart, there was no pride, no trust; over time things improved. People had to give things up, pay more taxes and we fixed buildings and made improvements for everyone."

"We're in trouble and we'll get out of it, but not this year," he continued. "The board is trying to do what it has to do."

With that said, after a lengthy executive session, the board returned announcing that the Niagara-Wheatfield Teachers Association had agreed to a memorandum of understanding that would put $1.2 million into the 2012-13 budget. No details of the agreement were shared.

The board also voted on and approved a 9.9 percent tax levy increase, which exceeds the state statutory tax levy increase of 5.56 percent and also exceeds the state tax levy cap. Because of that, the adoption of the 2012-13 budget must be approved by a majority vote, which is 60 percent of the qualified voters present and voting.

The board then approved the resolution of the annual district meeting and election which calls for a budget hearing on Wednesday, May 2, at 7 p.m. and the annual meeting and district election on Tuesday, May 15 from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Niagara-Wheatfield Senior High School.

The projected 2012-13 budget is $65.4 million. With $57.1 in revenues and a 9.9 percent tax levy increase, the board is still seeing a shortfall more than $5 million. They must also make up another $2.3 million shortfall in the present budget.

In other business:

•The board recognized the students who participated in Odyssey of the Mind and will travel to Binghamton for the state competition after winning the regionals.

The Edward Town Middle School team included Dylan Smith, Jacob Ambrosia, Jordan Hiscock, Mara Scive, Kyle Otminski, Hailey Faron and Travor Cannon.

The N-W Senior High School team was made up of Cristina Gifford, Jacob Kujawa, Cody Weigel, Sara Abbey, Justin Sczepczenski and Alexis Vallieu.

The Errick Road team members were Surjit Arnone, Matthew Baumgartner, Christopher Dyer, Dylan Loliger, Bryson Shunk, Brett Sitzman and Matthew Wing.

•The board also recognized Transportation Supervisor Michael Dallessandro for an article he had published in the March 2012 issue of School Bus Fleet.

•A group of students performed a selection from the high school's musical "Seussical."

•The board appointed Charles Smilinich to the position of elementary principal at Colonial Village Elementary School.

•In a public program presented by Mary Ann Buch, the district was advised as to how the school protects children who are using the Internet. She summarized the board's policy and the responsibilities of the school. However, Buch also addressed issues the school cannot control, such as the use of personal cell phones to access the Internet and social networks while on campus.

The Internet Safety overview can be found on the school district's website.

Buch also gave an overview of the Technology Department and its relationship to the federal program, "Race to The Top," which New York state is participating in. This is an unfunded state mandate, she said.

The program includes the need for student computers, new administrative systems and instructional requests. All of which, rather than purchasing, the district will be financing over a period of five years. She also remarked that the 2012-13 equipment budget has been reduced by $75,000 without impacting programs or tools provided to students.

•••••••

Teachers union gives back to help reduce deficit

Through a combination of health insurance concessions and the elimination of a tuition reimbursement benefit, the Niagara-Wheatfield Teachers Association has overwhelmingly voted to give the Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District $1.2 million back to assist it and the community with an otherwise dire budgetary shortfall for 2012-13.

"We wanted to do our part to save an excellent school district from potential ruin. While it will be painful for our membership, it will save jobs and critical programs. We need the community now to do the same in voting yes on the school budget on May 15," said Kevin Rustowicz, NWTA president.

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