Riordan: $43.091M plan fair to taxpayers
By Jodee Riordan
Lewiston-Porter Board of Education President
The Lewiston-Porter Board of Education continued budget development discussions this past Tuesday, reaching consensus on appropriations and revenues. The board will meet again on Tuesday, April 12, to present this year's plan to the public and adopt the final budget. A formal budget hearing will be held Tuesday, May 10.
The 2016-17 budget totals $43,091.772 - an increase of 3 percent (or $1,268,635) over last year. The budget includes an increase of 1.99 percent to the tax levy.
The budget fulfills Lew-Port's budget development goals. It is aligned to our mission statement, supports the 2016-20 strategic plan, and is sustainable over time and fair to district taxpayers.
Here is what you need to know about the 2016-17 budget:
•The budget is focused on supporting Lewiston-Porter's 2016-20 strategic plan. It restores a full-time librarian/media specialist position (returning library services to all buildings, which are vital to supporting literacy and enhancing learning opportunities); restores staff development and department chairs (vital for vertical and grade-level curriculum development); establishes our professional learning communities and supports character education programs; continues support of one-to-one computing and technology; and provides additional support for athletics, based on the recommendations of the athletic advisory committee.
•The budget is focused on conservative, long-term fiscal planning. It establishes a repair reserve (for unexpected and emergency repairs - such as water main breaks); establishes a capital outlay reserve (for planning and implementing smaller projects, outside the scope of a full capital project - vital to routine maintenance and upkeep); allows for early debt payment (to reduce future strain on the district tax levy and reduce interest); and provides increased support for facilities (with two new, part-time cleaner positions). Technology support is also provided and budget reserves will be gradually and strategically funded.
•The $43.091 million plan includes restoration of state aid to provide sustainability.
•Impacts/increases to the budget include the following:
√Contractual increases ($1.2 million).
√Health insurance costs (up 9 percent, or $300,000); and a long list of unfunded mandates (including increased costs and percentages of special education, ESL and transportation regulations, and reporting requirements regarding health care, auditing and data reporting).
√Budgetary decreases made to support initiatives; BOCES savings (in areas of special and alternative education); transportation and utilities savings (after historical analysis); and strategic cuts to legal fees and insurance costs (the district will use a local insurance vendor, gaining service and decreasing costs, while supporting local business).
√The tax levy growth, over the past 10 years (since 2006-07), has been limited to an average rate of 1.4 percent year over year. Notably, the rate of levy increase since the 2009-10 budget year has been limited to an average of .79 percent.
•In my six years on the board, with the implementation of the Gap Elimination Adjustment and the tax cap threshold mechanism, the levy has grown an average of just 1.33 percent, year over year. The budget has increased in equal restrained measure, and actually saw reductions in some years.
Compared to overall increases in costs, and coupled with the loss of aid and revenues over these years, it speaks to the district's strong fiscal conservatism and measured approach to investing in education.
The restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment returns $1,009,113 of district tax dollars to Lew-Port revenues. However, the district received no increase in foundation aid (the main state aid) and lost revenue in other areas. A modest tax levy increase of 1.99 percent is included in the budget to allow for the district to pay down debt (part of the long-term fiscal planning); restore and maintain programs (aligned with our strategic planning); and provide additional support to athletics (as recommended by Lew-Port's community-based athletic advisory committee).
This includes additional coaching support (specifically, assistant coaches), development and training, as well as the long-overdue purchase of equipment and uniforms. Athletics is a very important component to Lewiston-Porter. The BOE has heard this and is responding to the requests of our community.
Along with athletics, there have been many areas Lew-Port has maintained with low spending as it navigated the New York state fiscal budget crisis, and its impact to education over the past years. There were many other areas that saw programmatic losses, as well as the loss of 79 positions.
Lewiston-Porter chose to strategically spend down its reserves to maintain the integrity of our overall program and, for this, Lew-Port was classified as the second-most fiscally stressed district in the state by the state comptroller's office. Through very conservative and strategic budgeting and spending, Lewiston-Porter is no longer "fiscally stressed," and is able to begin carefully restoring and advancing its educational program.