Article and photos by Janet Schultz
More than 100 concerned Lewiston-Porter School District residents showed up at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night to show their support for the various programs and positions that are facing the chopping block in the 2013-14 budget.
The district is facing a 1.5 percent increase in the tax levy or maintaining the current levy with a number of cuts in programming and positions. Although the state will be providing $10.7 million in aid, it is $600,000 less than last year and the district is projecting $1.8 million less in revenue.
"There's no place to go (for money) anymore," said Superintendent Christopher Roser.
The BOE tabled the adoption of the $39,159,743 budget until the April 23 special board meeting.
Roser provided board members and residents with a historical look at what has transpired in the district over the past several years. State aid went down dramatically over the past three years and, during the past five years, there has been no increases in school taxes (with the exception of last year, when Lew-Port set the tax levy at the state threshold of 4 percent).
The first cuts in the budget involve not replacing the retirements of the assistant superintendent for finance, a human resource person, a maintenance person, a groundsperson, a clerical position, two teacher aides and a special education teacher. The total saved would be $403,000. Individuals already on staff will absorb the duties.
The next step is to move back to campus several positions that are currently served by BOCES at a cost to the district.
Other modifications include cuts in transportation by combining runs, saving $81,182, and cutting modified sports, saving $44,610.
Next would be the elimination of 10 teaching positions, saving $701,001. The cuts include teachers in English, mathematics, science, Spanish, business, art, technology, a librarian, two elementary and part-time instructors in music, social studies and physical education.
There would also be 19 cuts in teacher aides and five full-time building monitors with other monitors moving from full-time status to part-time.
In total, 41 positions would be either eliminated or reduced.
The board also found $280,895 in savings by reducing utilities and security, eliminating the International Exchange Program, teacher conferences, field trips, reducing working hours in the summer and making cuts in supplies.
Roser went on to explain that with a 1.7 percent increase in the tax levy, providing $476,000 in additional funds, the district could restore some programs, including full-day universal pre-kindergarten, the after-school assistance program, field trips and modified sports. They could also bring back three teaching positions and six aide positions.
The tax levy would be at 5.70 percent, and must pass by a yes vote of 60 percent of the voting public.
Roser also explained that if the budget were to be defeated, it would be brought back for a second vote. If defeated a second time, Lew-Port must return to the 2012-13 tax levy that would force the district to cut an additional $894,000 on top of the current cuts, which Roser explained they can't afford to do.
A public budget hearing will be held on May 14 and the annual meeting, budget vote and election will be held May 21.
Numerous public speakers, including voters, students, alumni and faculty, made their feelings known asking that the board not eliminate positions in music, art and sports. Prior to the community comments, board member Michael Gentile explained to the public that Roser doesn't make the decisions himself.
"We give him direction, we give him amounts, we interact publicly and individually," said Gentile, asking speakers to not direct comments at Roser personally. "We have the ultimate review of exactly what's in the budget."
"With your leadership and guidance the school district can maintain our current status as one of the elite districts in WNY through these difficult times," said Kevin Jaruszewski, Lewiston-Porter United Teachers president. "We ask you to consider giving the voters an option to help solve this crisis.
"We need to continue giving students every opportunity to be career and college ready," he concluded.
"I don't envy any of you. Cuts that hurt must be made," said Beth Etopio. "But to cut music is devastating. Music has been whittled down slowly even though there has been a growth in the program."
Science teacher Michelle Hinchliffe asked the board to maintain the science department, explaining that mathematics and science teachers are needed and national programs, such as Race to The Top, encourage growth in those areas, and yet Lew-Port is proposing cuts in that area.
"This is money that is leaving our community," said Betty VanDenBosch, referring to cuts in personnel. "This is less money that people have to spend in the community. This is a big blow to the community, not just the school."
"I was so excited about the capital project and the new aquatic center," said Tom Swift. "We are moving in the right direction. I'm willing to pay more to keep these teachers' jobs."
"I don't think the cuts should come from a small and important department," said Aaron Lily, a senior at Lew-Port, talking about cuts in the business department. "These programs (referring to computers, advertising, resume writing, etc.) not only organize your business but your life. They are important, for the kids to move on into the real world."
The other item on May's ballot will be a capital construction project that focuses on renovating the high school.
Board member Michael Gentile explained that funds for the $26 million capital project come from the state and cannot be used for anything other than construction. No funding on this project would come from the district.
"The money is there for districts to use, and we are in desperate need of upgrading the high school," explained Gentile.
He went on to reiterate that Roser did not make these budget decisions himself.
"The board gives him direction, and the board has the ultimate review," said Gentile.
In other business, the board was advised of changes made to the contracts being submitted to the Town of Lewiston regarding the selling of land to the town for construction of the proposed recreation and senior center (Lewiston Civic Center) on that land, which would be situated in front of the high school. The board will now submit those changes to the town and await their response.
The board also approved a revision to the 2013-14 school calendar that will introduce a trimester to the Primary and Intermediate Education schools.
"This gives the children more time to meet the standards and provides flexibility in pacing the common core," said Intermediate School Principal Andrew Auer.
Primary School Principal Tamara Larson went on to explain that it will also give parents a more detailed and meaningful report card because the trimester provides more time for instruction and assessment.
There will now be three report card periods with grades closing on Dec. 6 and March 21. There would be no April report card and the final report period will remain the same. Parent conferences for elementary students would be scheduled in December and late March.
The board accepted a donation from board member Ken Fox of a children's book, "Johnnie's Adventures," written and autographed by Suzanne Simon Dietz. Dietz is a graduate of Lewiston-Porter and resident and historian for the Town of Porter.
The board recognized students Emily Lauzonis, Nicole Tyler and Ella Massaro for their contributions to the Swim-A-Cross. They were the top fundraisers in the event, which raised more than $3,100 for the American Red Cross.
Roser also recognized the district's school nurses in honor of National School Nurses' Day on May 8. Lew-Port's nursing staff includes Gloria Klettke, Suzanne Lombardi, Jacqueline O'Hara, Maureen Schug, Kim Winter and Mary Mihalich.
A special board meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 23 (time to be announced). The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be May 28.