by Carreen Schroeder
On April 23, the Niagara-Wheatfield Board of Education met with a very emotionally charged audience to discuss the 2014-15 school budget.
Superintendent Dr. Lynn Fusco gave a comprehensive presentation on the adoption of the expenditure budget of $64,616,39, along with a review of the necessary reductions in order to fill the year-to-year expenditure gap.
After demonstrating that enrollment levels are fairly stable within the district and that 88 percent of N-W graduates go on to two and four-year colleges, military service and "other" post-secondary programs, Fusco compared the grim details of what a 0 percent and a 4.8 percent tax levy reduction would look like in terms of staff and program cuts, along with increases in class size.
The adoption of the 4.8 percent tax levy reduction would mean the equivalent loss of 10 full-time staff positions in the following areas - 1 mechanic, 6 elementary, 0.4 art and foreign language and 2.6 music. In addition, there would be a possible increase to 30 students in the sixth grade classes with a range of 22 to 26 in the elementary schools.
Fusco announced that with "a great deal of scrutiny and contemplation," the athletics department would see a cut to tennis, golf, swim, bowling, cross-country and fall cheer leading. Several programs would remain intact including boys and girls basketball and volleyball, hockey, girls softball, boys baseball, soccer, lacrosse, wrestling, football, boys and girls track, football and winter cheer leading. When suggestions were raised by attendees with regard to outside agencies stepping forward to possibly fund threatened programs, along with possible parental support in raising funds, Fusco said, "I am very much open to having those conversations and look forward to them."
Should the budget not pass, the 0 percent tax levy reductions amounting in $2.9 million, would result in the elimination of four elementary, one clerical and one administrative position, along with the elimination of high school electives, the elimination of band and lessons in fifth grade and chorus in grades third to fifth, along with the elimination of the entire athletic program. Responding to shock and upset from the attendees, Fusco said with great emotion, "These are not scare tactics. You want me to be transparent. I'm being transparent. We can't be divisive. We need to work together in order to maintain what we have."
Initially greeting the board of education members and the superintendent, senior Emily Belote then turned to face the audience. In a truly impressive and heartfelt plea, Belote urged the Niagara-Wheatfield residents to vote and support the students. She spoke of her years at the Niagara-Wheatfield School District and of her involvement with the symphonic band as well as the saxophone and jazz ensemble. Belote spoke of her commitment to soccer and lacrosse at the varsity level as well as her experience with junior varsity basketball. She spoke of her acceptance to study engineering at the University at Buffalo in the fall. Belote stated that all of this was and will continue to be possible because of her parents', her school district's and her community's support. Urging the community to adopt the 4.8 percent tax levy, Belote said, "If you do not support the students now, there will be no future. Please vote for the students."
Further meetings on the budget presentation will be held on Thursday, May 1, at the Colonial Village School library, Tuesday, May 6, at the Errick Road School library and on Thursday, May 8, at the West Street School library. Superintendent Fusco urged all to come out and vote on May 20 from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the high school's Adult Learning Center. In closing, Fusco urged the audience, "Do not stop; we need your voices heard."
In other news:
•Congratulations went to Lenore Luciano for the Director of the Year Award.
•Congratulations and a heartfelt good-bye to Mr. Mikulski as he leaves the district to accept an assistant principal position at the Clarence School District's middle school.
•Monday, June 23, will be the last full day of school with half days scheduled for June 24-26.