by Janet Schultz
The Lewiston-Porter School District has reduced its budget each year since 2009, but New York state has also reduced its aid in each of those years, leaving the gap up to the district to be filled.
The Lew-Port Board of Education has found ways without increasing the tax levy in three of those years, but, as a result, it now makes the 2013-14 budget more difficult to balance.
A handful of district residents heard the realities of Lewiston-Porter's revised budget at a public hearing Tuesday night.
All totaled, the net state aid loss to Lew-Port in the past four years has been $9.4 million.
"This is aid that was not sent to Niagara County, but to bailout other agencies and programs in other regions across New York state," said Lew-Port Superintendent Christopher Roser.
With the failure of the first budget vote in May, the board will now ask the taxpayers for a 3.95 percent tax levy increase - the highest in more than 10 years.
Roser went on to outline the budget and cuts.
The 2013-14 budget is $39,647,771, 2.04 percent lower than the 2012-13 budget. He said the board came to that figure by making major cuts through elimination of programs and positions.
The administrative budget has been reduced by $168,000 through reductions in day-to-day operations and legal fees; elimination of staff members in human resources and the IEC office; filling the assistant superintendent position from within; cutting overtime and recruiting; eliminating conferences and professional development; and going a different way with regards to the district newsletter.
In the program budget, reductions have been made to the tune of $506,089. "This is what Lew-Port is all about," said Roser, referring to a host of affected areas.
Cuts include in-service training, eliminating 43 positions (12 of them teachers); eliminating the International Exchange Program; cutting all field trips; reducing school counselors and psychologists summer work; cuts in supplies; elimination of the Junior ROTC program; reducing the number of substitutes called in during the year; and cutting substitute aides and health exams.
Roser has moved nine positions to federal grants, but warned that starting next year those grants will begin to be reduced and the positions will need to be pulled back into the regular budget.
"Since 2009 we have cut 76 positions at Lew-Port," said Roser. "There are no classroom aides at all. Hall monitors have been eliminated.
"The only monitors we have are door monitors in each building and one aide that covers the entire campus to relieve door monitors for breaks."
Cuts were made to the transportation budget by reducing the amount budgeted for gasoline and combining some runs.
In the capital budget cuts were made to the operation and maintenance of buildings and grounds.
"All the custodian and cleaning staff have been reduced," said Roser. "This means some things won't get cleaned as often as they have in the past."
The board also cut in the areas of utilities with the hope that those costs don't go up and that the winter is mild.
The Lewiston-Porter United Teachers have assisted the district in its cost savings by continuing to contribute to their health benefits along with money they gave back to the district in 2009-10 and 2010-11 from their health trust.
As to the impact the district faces, Roser said the staffing cuts would eliminate the flexibility for students to get all the courses they need. It also eliminates half of the electives in technology and with fewer aides in the classroom, students who need that support will struggle more.
"In the administrative changes, there will be fewer secretaries to complete work so some things will go undone," emphasized Roser.
"There is no room for error," he continued.
With less money for substitutes, subs will not be called in and classes may be cancelled or combined into a larger room with one sub.
"Security has been cut at a time when the world requires everyone to be more vigilant," said Roser, who at one time had hoped for a full-time resource officer on campus.
What does all this mean for the local taxpayer?
With no STAR exemption, taxes for a Town of Lewiston resident with a $100,000 home would increase by $73 and for Town of Porter, $56.
If the budget is voted down on Tuesday, June 18, the board is required by law to go to contingency, meaning it reverts back to exactly what the budget is for the 2012-13 school year. This means they would have to find another $882,395 in cuts.
The board and administration have made those decisions.
A contingency budget would see Lewiston-Porter reducing kindergarten to half-day; eliminating varsity, JV and modified sports; eliminating plays, musicals and clubs; cutting one art teacher thus eliminating a number of art electives; and cutting three cleaning positions.
"There isn't any other place to go," said Roser.
"This budget is $2,341,722 less than 2009-10, and $471,407 less than last year's budget. We not spending more money, we're spending less money.
"The budget has been going down ever since I got here," he continued. "We don't have aid coming in from the state so we have to make it up locally.
"These are not scare tactics," Roser said recently. "We need support one way or the other on Tuesday night."
Only one speaker came to the podium and urged the board to make education their first priority.
"Make choices in the best interest of the students," said Terisa Casal. "Cutting academic programs to promote sports seems irresponsible."
She also asked the board to keep kindergarten at full day, stating that it is every bit as important and is the basis of a student's beginning education.
"I truly love everything about this school and I'm sad and worried about what is coming," she said.
"I want you to put education No. 1," she concluded.
The Lewiston-Porter budget vote will be held Tuesday, June 18, from noon to 8 p.m. in the Community Resource Building.