by Janet Schultz
"The school is the most important part of our community, and we need to invest in our children's education," said Lewiston Porter Board of Education President Jodee Riordan. "We've asked for a very modest increase, and it is solely about the cuts we've taken from New York state.
"We have done everything we are supposed to do. It's coming down to jobs, and it's coming down to the quality of our children's education.
"There's no scare tactic. The budget is less, but with the cuts from the state there is nothing we can do but ask for a modest increase," Riordan stressed.
This is the message the Riordan wants to send to the residents of the Lewiston-Porter School District as they go to the polls on Tuesday, June 18.
Superintendent Christopher Roser presented more modifications to the 2013-14 budget in order to get to the 3.95 percent tax levy increase the board will put forth to the voters.
After working with the Athletic Department, Roser has reinstated modified sports, with the exception of co-ed cross-country, wrestling and co-ed swimming. Those were cut due to low participation and the short seasons.
Roser also recommends putting co-curricular activities back into the proposed budget. He made these modifications by eliminating field trips, eliminating the After School Assistance Program, not replacing a teacher currently on leave, filling a grounds position from within, not replacing a nurse who is leaving, and making cuts in the cleaning staff.
"The bathrooms will be clean, the garbage cans will be emptied," said Roser. "But not every classroom will be swept, and not every chalkboard will be wiped down every day."
The board had already made significant cuts to the first budget proposed at $40,001,368 and a 5.52 percent tax levy increase to the voters. That budget was voted down.
This proposal is set at $39,647,771 and a 3.95 percent tax levy increase. This is now $825,004 less than the 2012-13 budget.
Should this budget not garner a 50 percent majority vote, the district is required to go to a contingency budget, which means another $893,995 in cuts. At this time, Roser has recommended to cut all interscholastic athletics, all co-curricular activities, eliminating half-day kindergarten, eliminating three cleaners and one art teacher and put the elementary librarian at 60 percent.
"I never wanted to go there," said Roser, referring to athletics and kindergarten. "I think you have to look at all things we've cut and figure out if this doesn't pass at 3.95 percent, what are we really looking at.
"All you hear from the IDA and the Niagara USA is 'jobs, jobs, jobs.' Yet we're laying off people, and I'm not hearing 'save all these people's jobs,' " said Riordan. "Or the impact going to half-day pre-K or half-day kindergarten would have."
"We have done our due diligence," said Roser. "We can't cut any more without impacting programs."
With the 3.95 percent tax threshold, a $125,000 home in the Town of Lewiston, using the basic STAR rebate would see a tax increase of $67 in its tax bill. In the Town of Porter, it would be a $30 increase.
"We are trying to maintain programming the best way we can," he concluded.
The vote on the budget will be from noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 18, in the Community Resource Room on the Lew-Port campus.
In addition to the budget situation, the board passed a resolution that will be forwarded to New York state and local legislators asking that the redefining of the boundaries contained in the Niagara River Greenway agreement package in the relicensing settlement agreement with the New York Power Authority be rejected.
The Town of Lewiston approved a similar resolution last week.
Lew-Port, as does the town, receives financial support from the New York Power Authority on a yearly basis due to the fact that the Power Authority had taken over large portions of land, depriving the communities of tax money that the land would generate if there were businesses and residences on that property.
The proposed boundaries would be moved closer to the Niagara River, thus eliminating Lew-Port from receiving funding. That funding provides for capital improvements at the school district, which take the burden off the local taxpayer.
The district cites that the proposed legislation is contrary to the interests of Lew-Port and its residents and also violates the contractual rights of the district and its citizens.
Riordan voted against the resolution.
"While I don't want to take money away from the school," said Riordan. "They have a point in wanting to clarify the projects."
Lewiston-Porter representatives appeared before the Greenway Host Communities Standing Committee Thursday to offer their Recreation Complex Phase II proposal for $6.3 million in funding, which the Niagara River Greenway Commission determined as inconsistent on May 21. Their proposal won approval.