by Janet Schultz
Niagara-Wheatfield School District voters will be presented with a balanced budget that features a $2.3 million increase and a 5.91 percent tax levy increase, but they will have full-day kindergarten, if the budget passes. The proposed budget is set at $62,753,100 for 2013-14.
That was the final outcome at the April 24 Board of Education meeting with more than 200 people in attendance, the majority there to voice their opinion on the kindergarten situation. Eliminating kindergarten had been proposed as a means of keeping costs down.
Board President Steven Sabo called the meeting back in session after an hour-long executive session and made a statement that kindergarten would be maintained if the budget passed on the first try.
However, he went on to explain that if the budget fails and either goes to a second vote or contingency, kindergarten would either have to be half-day or eliminated and all other non-mandated items would be looked at for possible cuts.
"Everything would be on the table at that point," said Sabo. "Looking at last year's attempt to override the tax levy limit the board decided not to attempt it this year. Instead, the board decided to do a rollover on the budget and do the same programs as this year."
"They also decided to pursue a 5.91 percent tax levy increase in order to offset part of the $3.4 million shortfall in the budget," he said.
This leaves $1.4 million to make up. With recent figures from state aid, the deficit was reduced to $1 million.
He went on to explain the board looked at many non-mandated areas including kindergarten when looking at cuts.
"We did it to be transparent, not to scare people," said Sabo. "We must put all areas on the table that may be affected. I can assure you that as we put up the 5.91 percent tax increase we will not be cutting to half day or eliminating kindergarten."
In order to balance the 2013-14 proposed budget the school district has saved $415,975 through retirements, cut Project Lead the Way from the ninth grade saving $79,000, eliminated two elementary and two middle school teachers, six teacher aides, three transportation personnel, a cleaner and several monitors for a savings of $1.7 million. (Some of these are reductions are moving persons from full time to part time; others are people who have left and aren't being replaced. At the middle school, the cuts are two full-time equivalent positions.)
While the majority of the community comments centered on keeping full-day kindergarten, one speaker called for everyone to contact the State Education Department and State Sen. George Maziarz, asking them to consider the pay to play procedures for sports, which are allowed in other states.
He also asked for people to call their local legislators and remind them that the property tax abatements are hurting school districts and ask them to share the county sales tax.
Contacting the state became a theme for a few speakers.
"Why don't we take the lead and go to the state and have them mandate kindergarten," said Peggy Wrobel. "If we take a stand locally, which as local officials it is our job to protect the taxpayers, we won't have to be standing here every year and you won't have to be making the decision. Kindergarten isn't something that should be looked at as a cut. It's something that is a need and will only grow."
Other residents called for a look at the health care benefits of N-W employees and ask them to pay more into it. The largest part of the N-W budget is in employee wages, benefits and pensions, which Sabo explained are all contractual issues.
A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, in the Community Resource Room at the high school. The annual election and budget vote is Tuesday, May 21, beginning at 8 a.m.
N-W estimated tax rate per $1,000 assessed value under proposed budget
Town of Niagara
•Homestead $29.27, up $1.63 •Non-homestead $39.35, up $2.20
•Homestead $24.71, up $1.38 • Non-homestead $33.78, up $1.89
•Homestead $20.86, up $1.16 • Non-homestead $28.06, up $1.57
•Homestead $17.11, up $0.95 • Non-homestead $23.01, up $1.28