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Lewiston-Porter School District learns budget woes

by jmaloni
Sat, Mar 23rd 2013 07:00 am

by Janet Schultz

The Lewiston Porter Board of Education meeting Tuesday night was an evening of ups and downs.

Opening the meeting with a presentation on the capital project that will go to the district residents for vote in May, architect Scott Jones showed more details on a project that will transform and upgrade areas of the high school building, including adding a new section that will contain a swimming pool and locker facilities. Each school building on the campus will also have entry areas renovated, providing for a more secure access from the outside.

Superintendent Christopher Roser explained that the capital project would take no funds from the district's budget. It will be funded through state aid (72 percent) and the balance from Greenway funding and the New York Power Authority.

"I want residents to understand that there is money in the state (budget) for capital construction. It is for that purpose only and if we don't apply for it, other districts will," said Roser. "This money cannot be used for the educational budgets in districts, but strictly for capital improvement."

He went on to explain that the high school building project was removed from previous capital projects due to funding and that it's now time to make renovations and improvements to that building.

Jones also went over the proposed schedule for the project, which will be voted on in May by the residents. Following the vote, the plans would be finalized and sent to the State Education Department for approval. Once approved, the project would go to bid, about February 2014, and construction would begin in the spring of 2014 and be completed by January 2016.

The next presentation brought reality to district residents as Roser announced that the district would be facing one of its toughest years yet.

"The budget hasn't grown much over the past five years," said Roser. "We've downsized quietly and carefully and been very cautious about increasing the taxes."

With the loss in state aid and the gap elimination adjustment, the district has lost almost $5 million in two years.

"We have to come in with a budget that is less than it was this year," said Roser.

The board is looking at a reduction in staffing through retirements, saving approximately $701,000 and eliminating 10 teaching positions. The result would be an increase in class sizes, elimination of some electives and doing without some things the district is used to having. In addition, they are looking at not replacing the assistant superintendent for finance, a human resources person, a grounds person, maintenance person, a clerical position, two aides and one special education person. All of these are retirements.

Other areas where Roser sees some savings is by making $81,000 in modifications in transportation, cutting modified sports and saving $44,600 and looking at how business is conducted in the district.

With all of that, the district still has a budget gap of $546,000; some may be picked up through state aid but, Roser explained, it will not be enough.

Looking at raising the tax levy beyond the 4 percent cap is not out of the question. However, that would require a 60 percent positive vote by the district voters.

Roser stressed that these are things being looked at, and the board will be holding budget workshops on March 26 at 5 p.m. and April 9 at 6:30 p.m.

In related news, the Lew-Port School District website has debuted a new forum for residents to submit cost-saving ideas to the district. Titled "Every Penny Counts," the online link invites residents to offer input in a "Cost Savings Suggestion Box."

"Your input is important to us!" reads the announcement. "As the district develops a 2013-2014 budget, the 'Cost Savings Suggestion Box' allows community members to submit ideas and/or suggestions for how the district can contain costs. Suggestions will be shared with the Board of Education and administrative team for consideration throughout the budget development process.

"The district offers the 'Cost Savings Suggestion Box' to make it easy for the community to offer suggestions or ideas anytime from now until the budget adoption in April."

For more information, visit the Lew-Port website, http://www.lew-port.com.

The board approved a resolution on the details of the annual meeting and election to be held May 21 from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Community Resource Center. Petitions for nomination of a candidate for the Board of Education are available and must be received in the office of the district clerk no later than 5 p.m. Monday, April 22. Drawing for candidates' positions will be held April 23.

Voter propositions must be submitted no later than April 6 (45 days) or April 1 (50 days), dependent on the proposition's content.

The annual budget hearing will be held Tuesday, May 14, at 6:30 p.m. in the Community Resource Center, and the regular Board of Education meeting will be held Tuesday, May 28.

In other business, the board:

•Named Keith Fox to serve as the representative to the Board of Education of the Orleans/Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES). He replaces former board member Wendy Swearingen.

•Accepted the retirements of school monitor Janice Miller, effective Feb. 27, and grounds person Brian Tupper, effective immediately.

•Recognized music staff in recognition of Music in Our Schools Month.

•Recognized Barbara LaBernardo, secretary to the high school principal, and Linda Bedore, cleaner; both are retiring.

The board went into executive session at 8:30 p.m. to discuss the superintendent's contract. No action was taken.

The Lewiston-Porter District Art Show will be held March 23 through April 21 at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, 1201 Pine Ave., Niagara Falls.

The Intermediate and Middle Schools collected Pennies for Patients that will go toward cancer research for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Together they raised over $4,200. The drive was in honor of 18-year-old Tim Midgley, a graduate of Lew-Port.

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