by Janet Schultz
Voters in the Niagara-Wheatfield School District are being urged by the Board of Education and candidates to get out and vote.
"We need everyone to vote," said President Steve Sabo. "This is one budget you can affect directly."
"We are very cognizant of the problems that face people in the community," he went on to say. "A lot of thought and tough decisions go into what we put up for the budget."
The school district is presenting a balanced budget of $62,753,100 to the voters on May 21. With that figure comes a 5.91 percent tax levy increase, which is within the state guidelines and requires a simple majority vote to pass the budget.
The estimated assessed value tax rate for the Town of Niagara would be $29.27 per $1,000 of assessed value, or a $1.63 increase; Town of Wheatfield, $24.71/$1,000, or $1.38 increase; Town of Lewiston, $20.86/$1,000, a $1.16 increase; and Town of Cambria, $17.11/$1,000, or a 95-cent increase over the current tax year.
These figures are based on the average increase of a home assessed at $100,000 after applying the basic STAR exemption.
Forty-eight percent of the budget comes from real property tax and 46 percent comes from state aid.
Dr. Richard Hitzges, interim financial manager, explained at last week's board meeting that the fluctuation in state aid has caused all school districts problems; along with a downturn in the economy. State aid has gone from $33.91 million in 2010-11 to $27.54 (expected) in 2012-13.
"If Niagara-Wheatfield had received fully-funded state aid, per the formulas set by the state, the district would have received $19 million from 2010 through 2014.
However, that has not happened because of state funding and for different reasons the state has withheld full funding. Thus, the district must make up the loss in revenue in other ways; many times through tax levy increases.
Salaries and benefits make up the largest portion of the expenditure side of the budget, with 43 percent going to salary and 24 percent going to benefits such as payroll taxes, FICA, health insurance and workers compensation. Debt service and BOCES are the other two largest expenditures. Debt service is payments to bond holders, and BOCES provides for shared services with other districts that lighten the load on the individual school district.
Residents at the meeting questioned the benefits received by employees and the status of contracts.
Sabo explained that the contracts are currently in place, and when they are up for renewal, items such as health insurance, will be part of the negotiations.
Board member Christopher Peters went on to explain that under the Taylor Law there is nothing the board can do with the contracts at this time. Until new contracts are finalized, the current contracts remain in effect.
Sabo also reminded the audience that the faculty had made concessions last year in order to help the district with the budget.
Hitzges provided the district with a look at enrollment trends, which also affect the budget process, indicating that Niagara-Wheatfield, while fairly stable, has had a downward trend since 2010. The enrollment drop from fall 2011 to fall 2012 of just over 200 students was a result of the elimination of pre-kindergarten.
He also went on to report that during the past three years there have been 103 employees eliminated from the district's payroll.
If approved the budget goes into affect July 1.
If not approved by a majority of the voters, the board may present a revised budget for a vote in June or adopt a contingency budget.
A contingency budget means keeping the same budget, using the same tax levy, as it is for 2012-13 and they will have to reduce it by at least $1.6 million. The reductions would have to come from non-mandated items.
•In other board business, approvals were given for: field trips for the concert choir, fifth grade and the Native American Club; retirement of teacher aide Patricia Zimmer; resignations of Sheldon Soman, computer network administrator, and Joseph Urban, assistant coach for women's lacrosse; fundraisers for the sixth grade teachers for a visit from Nickel City Retiles and Exotics and for boys basketball camps.
The Niagara-Wheatfield School District's annual budget vote and school board election will be held from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, in the Adult Learning Center of the Niagara-Wheatfield Senior High School, 2292 Saunders Settlement Road, Sanborn.