by Janet Schultz
The Lewiston-Porter Board of Education will present a $41.2 million spending plan to the voters of the district Tuesday, May 20.
The plan, a 3.97 percent increase over 2013-14 includes a 3.95 percent increase in the tax levy. The difference from 2013-14 to 2014-15 based on a $250,000 home, is an additional $219 for Lewiston residents and $59 for Porter residents.
However, because the district managed to remain below its New York state tax cap threshold, taxpayers will receive a refund from the state under the tax levy freeze program. Taxpayers who qualify for STAR will receive the refund from the state in early fall.
This program also encourages school districts to share services and work with their communities to save money, which the state in turn will reflect by means of tax rebates. In simple terms, the increase in the tax bill will be refunded to the taxpayer in the rebate check.
The largest percentage of the district's budget is for personnel, including salaries, workers' compensation, the Employee Retirement System (ERS) and Teacher's Retirement System (TRS), Social Security and health benefits. That portion of the budget saw a 68 percent increase due to contractual obligations and an adjustment in the way the district appropriates money for retirements and the ERS/TRS funds.
In its planning, the Lew-Port BOE took a hard look at the district budget and made necessary modifications that can move Lew-Port forward without impacting the classroom.
It recently found that the district had been budgeting for retirement funds in the current year only, and should be budgeting for the forthcoming year. In addition, retirement benefits had not been part of the appropriated budget. The board rectified these issues in the 2014-15 budget, resulting in an increase in personnel costs.
In the past, the district's expenditures exceeded the board's budget authorization, and they used available reserves and the fund balance. For the 2014-15 budget, the board feels it has more accurately predicted its revenues and plans to increase Lew-Port's much-depleted fund balance by the end of the next fiscal year.
Among the adjustments to the budget are three positions that will not be filled, including two retiring teachers in the elementary school and a clerical position. Adjustments are being made to accommodate those empty positions through reassignments and making a home and careers teacher full time.
The board has also made changes in its BOCES spending by restructuring the computer services used through BOCES.
President Obama's Affordable Health Care Act will save the district dollars by going to a four-tier plan that provides single, family, single with family and married without family plans to the health care plan choices.
While the largest revenue comes from the tax levy and state funding, Lew-Port also receives income from the New York Power Authority, Greenway Funding, and there was an additional amount of $302,484 coming from the state.
"We are a lot more confident with what we have budgeted this year. We are not out of the woods yet. It's a process, hopefully it's a three-to-five-year process," said Superintendent Christopher Roser.
"We are hoping next year to build on this and get Lewiston-Porter fiscally solvent," he continued.
"This budget is a much more accurate reflection of our expenses," said Board of Education Chairman Michael Gentile. "I think it reflects the hard work and tough choices we made last year."
"It's interesting the state created a rebate system where nobody's taxes increase," Gentile continued, referring to the state's new tax levy freeze.
In addition to the $41,220,963 budget proposal, the Lew-Port voters will vote on a proposition to purchase a delivery truck and related equipment in an amount not to exceed $40,000.
There are also two candidates for the Board of Education and two positions to fill.
Candidate Keith Fox is an incumbent who has served on the board from 2007 to 2010 and again in 2011 to the present time. Fox is a graduate of Marshall University, and has two master's degrees, one in education from Niagara University and the other in group work from George Williams College. He also served in the U.S. Army.
"As I look forward to the next three years, I see a major effort adjusting to the many new mandates that have and continue to come down from the State Education Department," said Fox. "We have the Common Core to adjust to, being allocated less money coupled with limited ability to raise money and we will be hiring a new superintendent.
"Change is constant and I hope we can find creative and constructive ways to maintain program," he concluded.
Candidate Lance Dickinson is new to the Lewiston-Porter board and relatively new to the district. He is a native of Newfane, a graduate of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, served in the Air Force and is a junior ROTC instructor, having recently been involved in Lew-Port's Junior ROTC program.
"I am an advocate of education and feel my experience as an officer, teacher, volunteer and parent will benefit the board as they face the financial, curriculum, personnel and infrastructure challenges of the future," said Dickinson.
The positions run from July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2017.
Polls open at 8 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 20. Voting for Lewiston-Porter residents will be in the Community Resource Center on the Creek Road campus.