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Niagara-Wheatfield Board of Education honors Fick; facing hard times

by jmaloni
Fri, Mar 29th 2013 04:20 pm
Award-winning Niagara-Wheatfield music teacher Ken Fick is shown with former Board of Education member Lori Pittman. (photo by Janet Schultz)
Award-winning Niagara-Wheatfield music teacher Ken Fick is shown with former Board of Education member Lori Pittman. (photo by Janet Schultz)

by Janet Schultz

The Niagara-Wheatfield Board of Education passed a resolution at its meeting last week to raise the tax levy on district residents 5.91 percent.

Upon making the motion, Board President Steve Sabo made the levy contingent upon anything that comes out from the state regarding the budget. Without the tax increase, the school district is looking at a $3.1 million gap.

The motion passed unanimously, with Rich Halleen and Richard Sirianni absent from the meeting.

Board member Christopher Peters understands the levy will be hard for district residents but with taxes not raised for several years, it hurt the school district in the long run, he said.

Board member David Breier asked parents to encourage each other to come to board meetings and let the board know what they would like to see done so their children aren't losing anything in their education.

Sabo also explained the school district needs to establish a healthy fund balance. The district used the fund balance over the past five years, and it is now lower than it should be.

The resolution passed following a presentation by interim business manager Dr. Richard Hitzges. He explained to district residents that the budget would not balance with revenues less than expenses.

Expenditures are totaling $63,679,712, or 5.2 percent more than the current budget year. On the revenue side, $62,218,135 is the projected figure for 2013-14; a difference of $1,451,577.

Hitzges explained that debt service, retirements and the state aid would not close the gap. There will be further discussions with staff to look for other areas to save money, including eliminating non-mandated services.

His budget presentation brought community residents to the podium looking for ways to save money, including contracting out bus services and the cafeteria. The bus issue raised the most comments, with Robert Schimshack providing the board with research he had done and calling on them to bring in bus companies to make presentations on what they could offer the district. The board agreed to the suggestion, but members commented that they would wait until summer, since it wasn't an option in the upcoming budget due to contract negotiations with current employees.

Mike Murawski doesn't agree with contracting out, stating that you can't drive a child to school for $800 a day, the current cost to Niagara-Wheatfield.

"I tip my hat to the Transportation Department for doing it," said Murawski. He also encourages voters to go to the polls citing that only 15 percent of eligible voters actually vote on Election Day.

Another resident asked for an explanation on how the tax levy is assessed by the state to help the voters understand. Hitzges explained the detailed calculations during the public comment session. Also requested was a listing of non-mandated items which the board will provide on the district website.

In other matters:

•The board passed the resolution setting the annual meeting and election for the district. The annual budget presentation will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, in the Adult Learning Center at the high school. The annual meeting and election will be held from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, also at the high school.

•The Niagara-Wheatfield Board of Education recognized music teacher Ken Fick for receiving the Buffalo Philharmonic Niagara County Excellence in Music Education Award. He was named 2013 Music Educator of the Year in Niagara County.

Fick, who has been with the Niagara-Wheatfield district for 12 years, conducts the musical and choral groups and teaches general music.

The honor is given to the music educator who has demonstrated exemplary teaching skills, innovative approaches, consistent programs of musical excellence in their district, and has made contributions to the overall program of music education at the county level.

Fick serves on the Niagara County Music Educator Board as vice president of choruses. He served as advocacy chairman initiating and leading the first Music Educators Day in 2008; served four years on the NYS Classroom Music Committee and four years as the high school classroom music coordinator for the NYS Music Association. He also is the guest conductor for the county music festivals in Niagara, Erie and Broome counties.

•In another matter, Sabo made a motion to place a student on the Board of Education. He said the board needs an advocate for the students and that New York education law does provide for students to serve on boards of education.

The motion passed unanimously and now goes to the district for a vote.

•••••

State budget includes extra funds for N-W

by Susan Mikula Campbell

The Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District will see about $300,000 more than expected in state aid funds this year, according to interim Superintendent James Knowles.

As negotiations on the state budget continued in Albany this week, news quickly spread that aid funds were increased for most school districts.

The estimated amount of increase for N-W is based on the amount over that quoted in the initially released state budget, Knowles said. The district is still determining how much of the new funds will be mandated by the state to be used for specific projects and how the funds will affect the school district's own budget.

"Anything is good," Knowles said. "We are looking at the best thing we can do for the people in this district and for our students."

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