by Susan Mikula Campbell
The Niagara-Wheatfield School District is holding budget information sessions at district elementary schools to explain the budget process and seek input from community members.
One of the budget information meetings was held March 7 at Errick Road Elementary. Meetings are set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, at Colonial Village Elementary and Thursday, March 21, at West Street Elementary.
The board already has decided that its 2013-14 budget will not exceed the state tax cap. The meetings will be open forums at which residents can ask questions and make suggestions, Interim Superintendent James Knowles said. Board members and either Knowles or the business manager will be present.
"We're trying to give the people information on where we are right now and why we are there, what things we really don't have control over (mandates), and give ideas on how we are going to close the gap," Knowles said.
Either more revenue or some cuts will be necessary to stay under the tax cap, district officials agree.
"Like every place else, it's a challenging situation," Knowles said of the budget process.
Much is still up in the air right now that has to be settled in Albany.
Part of that is extra funding that the governor would like to see used for universal pre-kindergarten, full-day kindergarten or possibly a longer school day.
District business manager Kerin Dumphrey said that to continue running the district as it is now and still stay under the 2 percent tax cap, the district would need an extra $1.4 million, even if voters are asked to approve the entire tax cap amount.
In order not to exceed the tax cap, the board would have to stay at 5.9 percent or less of the current tax levy of $28,661,923, Dumphrey said. That would mean the most the tax levy could be would be $30,355,843.
"We're still $1.4 million apart from what we want and what we could afford," Dumphrey said. "There's still a lot of work to be done."
The district had to try two times to get a budget approved by voters last year. The revised $60.5 million budget was finally passed on June 19, 2012, after the first budget, which would have brought a 9.9 percent increase in the tax levy, was defeated on May 15, 2012.
Dumphrey will be retiring at the end of this week. The district is contracting through the Niagara-Orleans BOCES for a business manager, but may return to having its own in the future, Knowles said.
The next regular meeting of the Niagara-Wheatfield Board of Education will be on Wednesday, March 20, at the high school's adult learning center. Meetings generally begin with an executive session at 6 p.m.
•The Board of Education also began the first round of interviewing potential candidates for the position of superintendent of schools this week, according to Knowles. From the initial interviews, the board will choose candidates it will want to interview further.