by Susan Mikula Campbell
Voters in the Niagara-Wheatfield School District will be asked on Tuesday, May 15, to approve a $61.78 million budget for 2012-13 that will lead to a 9.9 percent increase in the tax levy.
The budget and trustee vote will be held from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Adult Learning Center adjacent to the high school at 2292 Saunders Settlement Road, Sanborn.
"This budget would put us on solid financial footing for the future, where we need to be, and where we strayed from," Interim Superintendent Kerin Dumphrey said both on the district's website and at the May 2 budget hearing. "We need to put the district in the position where we never again are forced into crisis mode to carry out our mission - to form the next generation of citizens and leaders. Only if we regain a strong financial footing will we regain the ability to grow and improve our programs for students."
Because the increase in the tax levy is over the state tax cap, the budget will need 60 percent of the voters to approve it.
"We are going to have to cut people and increase taxes if we want to survive," Dumphrey said at the meeting.
Even though the tax levy will go up, the proposed budget is the district's lowest expense plan in six years, $1,155,341 lower than the current year's budget. It includes concessions by district unions amounting to about $1.4 million and more than $4 million in cuts. A list of cuts and Dumphrey's budget hearing information is available on the website. Paper copies of the budget are available at the district's business office and at each school.
"If the budget is not passed, a second vote could be scheduled or a contingency budget could be adopted by the Board of Education. A contingency budget would require at least another $2,708,196 in cuts to the proposed plan," Dumphrey said.
Residents speaking at the budget hearing were both pro and con on the budget and asked questions about the district's graduation rate and where the former fund balance went. Those in favor of the budget cited the need to continue to give students a quality education.
Mike Murawski commended the board "on the job they've done this year to correct many of the problems" in the district, indicated he didn't think the members had much choice on the proposed budget, and said he would vote "yes" for it on May 15.
"How many people in this room got a 9.9 percent increase in their income this year," another resident countered.
As a local plumber, Danny Maerten said he works with many senior citizens. They just got their first raise in Social Security in three years, he pointed out, "They're not going to be able to afford their houses."
When Dumphrey explained that lack of full value assessments in most of the towns served by the school district is reducing the STAR funds given to residents by the state and thus increasing tax bills, Maerten said, "STAR money (via state taxes) is still coming out of our pockets, which are getting very empty."
Unsigned election literature, a feature of past Wheatfield elections, also apparently is affecting the school district. Russell Brumby displayed a flyer received at his home attacking one of the school board candidates that was sent out by "someone who didn't have the guts to sign it."
Vote and have dinner
The Niagara-Wheatfield Outdoor Club is sponsoring a BW's Smokin' Barrels Barbecue at Niagara-Wheatfield High School during voting on the school budget and board candidates on Tuesday, May 15.
The dinners will be sold from 3:30 to 7 p.m. and include barbecue chicken, potato salad, tossed salad and roll and butter for $8 presale or $8.50 at the door. Dine in or carry out. Presale tickets are available at school offices; checks should be made payable to the Niagara-Wheatfield Activities Fund.