by Janet Schultz
At a very sparsely attended public hearing, residents of the Lewiston Porter School District heard a detailed report on the proposed 2012-13 budget that they will vote on Tuesday.
The budget calls for a .59 percent increase and a 3.51 percent tax levy. The $40,472,775 figure is just $237,284 over the 2011-12-budget total of $40,233,491.
"The board has done their due diligence," commented Superintendent Christopher Roser.
Just over 71 percent of the budget is for programming.
"That's as it should be," said Assistant Superintendent Don Rappold.
The programming budget stands at $29,011,251; administration, $3,782,348 and capital, $7,697,176.
Programming includes transportation of students, benefits, special education, co-curricular activities and sports, and educational services. The administrative portion includes policy and management, administrative services, educational services, personnel office and benefits - those items needed to run the district.
The capital budget includes payment for the money borrowed over the years for capital projects. Voters approved these items in the past.
Roser presented an overview on how the Board of Education arrived at the figure.
"The increases to the budget were things that we had no control over," explained Roser. "Such as legal fees, transportation, electricity, utilities and benefits."
Numerous cuts were made by putting a freeze on spending in areas such as supplies and equipment; changing the school calendar so staff development days could be held with a reduced hiring of substitutes and an arrangement for BOCES to take over the ROTC program. The ROTC will still be held on the Lew-Port campus.
This is the first year where there will be seven positions laid off including four elementary teachers, a middle school math AIS position and a middle school ELA position. A person on staff that is certified to teach dual subjects will fill the math position. The others will remain unfilled.
There are nine retirements, of which five will remain unfilled; one will be filled through an in-house transfer and three must be replaced. The unfilled retirement positions include two elementary teachers, middle school Spanish, middle school orchestra and a teaching assistant.
"Up until now we covered our personnel strategically by not replacing persons who retired," Roser continued.
"Some of those positions are being covered by current staff who have certifications in more than one area and match those vacancies."
"No one wants layoffs," said Jodee Riordan, president of the Lewiston-Porter Board of Education. "These people aren't just employees, they are residents who pay taxes here, shop here and are part of this community."
Roser also noted changes in the enrollment over the past several years. In 2003-04 the district had 2,402 students; projected for 2012-13 is 2,087.
"There aren't a lot of young families moving into the Lew-Port District," said Roser.
The single person speaking to the board at the public hearing voiced the same sentiment, with a twist.
"It is hard for the senior citizens to pay their taxes," said Carmela Alati, a resident of Lewiston. "I want to point out that people in our age bracket are finding it very difficult and I'm asking you to keep costs down. We didn't earn salaries like you are making."
"With what we can control, we have been very mindful," Riordan said.
"We understand how it affects people on Social Security and we have family on Social Security and pensions. At the same time we are struggling with raising families ourselves," Riordan continued.
In looking over the past 10 years of the Lew-Port financial situation, the budget has gone from $31,225,206 in 2003-04 to its current amount at $40,233,491. Those increases have risen and fallen from a 0 percent increase (2005-06) to the highest in 2006-07 - a 7.81 percent increase.
State aid has gone from a negative 8.84 percent last year to as much as receiving 7.37 percent in 2008-09.
Roser also explained the reason for asking for approval on a $2.7 million capital project. Lew-Port will receive 1 percent state aid in 2012-13.
Taxes have been held at zero percent in 2008-09; 0.51 percent in 2010-11; 0.93 percent, 2011-12 and a negative 2.74 percent in 2009-10. Prior to that the largest tax increase was in 2004-05 at 13.50 percent. Other years the increase was in the 1 to 3 percent range.
"The capital construction project is to make repairs that are necessary for the health and safety of our students," said Roser.
On the list of projects is repair to the high school roof and kitchen, swimming pool and to a wall in the Middle school.
"The high school roof is leaking above the gym, auditorium and the pool," explained Roser.
The project would include replacing the roof hatches, skylights and roof drains.
"The swimming pool is also leaking and requires a new liner and some ceramic work to prevent leakage," explained Roser. "The pool repair will be good for 12 years."
"There is no new pool in our future for quite awhile," said Roser.
The next issue is that of a wall on the second floor of the gym in the middle school. The damage, which occurred this winter, has made the wall bow. The architect will need to ensure this doesn't occur again by reconstructing and rebuilding the exterior masonry walls with new through-wall flashing and roofing edge at the top of the wall.
The final project involves repairing the existing HVAC insulation and replacing an electrical panel to bring the high school kitchen up to code and make it safe.
"The panel is the original installed when the school was built," explained Roser.
Roser went on to explain that Flynn Battaglia was the second lowest bidder on the RFP but the board felt that they could do the necessary restoration work and that this work would be a permanent fix.
"There is no cost to the local tax levy as the funding will come from state aid and New York Power Authority Community Resource Funding," explained Roser.
"This is how we funded our past project and how future capital projects will be handled, so that there is no impact on the tax levy," he continued.
"These repairs are for the safety and health of our students," he stressed.
The third part of Tuesday's vote is for two new board members. April Fideli and Wendy Swearingen have completed their three-year terms and have decided not to seek re-election. Running unopposed for those two positions are Mollie Lucas and Michael Skowronski.
Lucas is a child protective services supervisor with the Niagara County Department of Social Services and Skowronski is corporate relations developer for Career Services at Niagara University.
Voting will be held from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Community Resource Center Board Room.