N-W BOE adopts $67.9M budget for voter approval
By Janet Schultz
In an emotional statement to members of the Niagara-Wheatfield School District, Superintendent Lynn Fusco thanked the first responders, especially Niagara County Deputy Sheriff Joe Tortorella, and the staff for the way they kept students at Errick Road Elementary School safe during Friday's shooting incident.
A 25-year old shot his parents in a home adjacent to the school. Tortorella called to have the school locked down while engaging the suspect. During the incident, Tortorella was shot, his life saved by his vest.
"His bravery and quick action ensured the safety of all the children, faculty and staff at the school," Fusco said. "On behalf of our school community, myself, I want to thank Deputy Tortorella for his bravery, for his concern for our children and for putting his own life at risk to make sure we were safe."
"I want to thank all of those officers, deputies, troopers, sheriffs, everyone that was there; they provided us with a sense of calm and security, knowing we were all safe," Fusco added.
She also recognized Nora O'Brien and the faculty and staff of Errick Road for keeping their heads and following protocol.
"The kids knew it was not a drill by the look in Mrs. O'Brien's face," Fusco said. "The children told people they knew they would be okay because their teachers would keep them safe!"
The lockdown lasted about half an hour. The suspect took his own life and the parents are being hospitalized for neck wounds.
"I want the community to know that everyone followed the procedures to the T," Fusco said. "I couldn't be more proud of them."
Turning to the focus of the meeting, Fusco presented the 2015-16 budget to the board for its approval. Residents will vote on two propositions from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 19 in the Adult Learning Center.
Proposition No. 1 will be approving a $67,965,701 budget. The tax levy will be at the maximum for the 2015-16 year at 2.2 percent. Increases for the towns include $1.18 per $1,000 for the Town of Niagara; 30 cents per $1,000 for Wheatfield; 70 cents per $1,000 for Lewiston and seven cents per $1,000 for Cambria. Based on a $100,000 home with Basic Star Exemption, that would mean increases of $90.35 for Niagara; $23.01 for Wheatfield; $53.83 for Lewiston and $5.22 for Cambria.
The reduction the board took in the administrative and capital parts of the budget have been redirected to the program area in order to maintain the programs the schools ran in 2014-15. The current budget proposal maintains all current programs, restores athletics and restores co-curricular activities.
If the budget should fail, the district would have to eliminate $1,403,284 in order to balance the budget. Those reductions would mean eliminating athletics, co-curricular activities and unmandated high school electives, such as music and art.
If the budget fails, the board has the option of resubmitting the same budget to district voters, reworking the budget and presenting a new one or going on a contingency budget.
The second proposition is for members of the school board, with Steven Sabo and Richard Sirianni the only candidates running.
Fusco also presented the board with the New York State Comptroller Audit on Financial Condition for July 1, 2011, through Sept. 2, 2014. The audit found three issues that the district needed to address.
The first noted that New York state owed NWCSD $6.6 million as of June 30, 2014, which resulted in the need for the district to borrow for cash flow purposes. The comptroller remarked they attributed that delay in processing of payment to the significant turnover in the district's business office staff during that time frame and that since that time the new administration has implemented better budgeting practices, including tax increases, which are helping to improve the district's financial condition.
The district responded by concurring that the delay in state aid did negatively affect the financial condition and appropriate budgeting and watchful spending during the 2013-14 year ended with a fund balance. In addition, the district has been proactive in maintaining communication with the Native American unit of the NYSDE to secure its Native American aid in a more timely fashion.
The comptroller also recommended the district use its Greenway funding properly. The audit found the "district received approximately $2.2 million in Greenway Funds on March 5, 2013, and on March 26 the District issued a 15-year serial bond for $10.6 million to pay for a project." The district did not apply the Greenway funds to the bond amount of the project.
Fusco explained the timing of the bond issuance was the reason for the Greenway Funds not to being used and the district will continue "to strategically apply the receipt of Greenway Funds to the outstanding debt associated with the Greenway Project."
The final finding showed Host Community funds were not used toward the payment of outstanding debt during 2013-14 and were not budgeted against outstanding bond debt for 2014-15. The comptroller's office recommended the available cash resources in the debt service fund be used to pay for appropriate debt service costs. The district concurred and noted that of the $600,000 annual amount, awarded $500,000 was used for the purchase of new buses.
Board President Steven Sabo said that the new administration was complimented by the auditors for their work on the district's funding and getting it back into shape.
In other board business:
•Teacher Christine Riederer was recognized for receiving the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/Niagara County Music Education Association's Award for Excellence in Music Education. Riederer conducts the concert and symphony band and teaches music theory and high school music lessons. She has been a member of the NW faculty for 21 years. Her bands have won numerous gold awards at musical festivals and she herself has performed with the Buffalo Philharmonic, Erie County Wind Ensemble and Clarence and Amherst symphonies.
•The board tabled a resolution regarding the New York state assessment tests until further discussion and revision. It plans to forward its resolution to the state upon its approval.
•Fusco announced that 37 percent of NW students in grades 3 through 8 opted out of their ELA testing. The state expects NW to have a 95 percent participation rate. She went on to explain the impact of opting out, as well as the impact of the grades students receive on teacher evaluations.
At present time, there have been no sanctions on schools for students who have opted out, though the State Education Department has indicated there could be.
The board plans to act on this resolution at its next meeting.