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Lew-Port cuts more, sets new tax levy

by jmaloni
Fri, May 31st 2013 07:30 pm
Art students Patrick Wagner, Claire Augello and Ann Marie Catalano were recognized by the Board of Education, represented by President Jodee Riordan, for their work, which was shown in a number of exhibitions during the semester. They are joined by teacher Brett Coppins. (photo by Janet Schultz)
Art students Patrick Wagner, Claire Augello and Ann Marie Catalano were recognized by the Board of Education, represented by President Jodee Riordan, for their work, which was shown in a number of exhibitions during the semester. They are joined by teacher Brett Coppins. (photo by Janet Schultz)

by Janet Schultz

The Lewiston-Porter Board of Education voted to bring a $39,647,771 proposed budget, featuring a 3.95 percent tax levy increase, to the voters on Tuesday, June 18. A public budget hearing will be held Tuesday, June 11, at 6:30 p.m. in the Community Resource Center.

"This is $825,004 less than the 2013-14 budget and $1.8 million less than the 2008-09 budget," said Superintendent Christopher Roser.

Lewiston-Porter is the only district in the area that has reduced its budget, and yet, due to state aid cuts and like all other area districts, it is seeking a tax levy increase.

In order to take the defeated budget of a 5.52 percent tax levy increase down to the 3.95 percent tax levy, the board made an additional $353,597 in cuts. Those cuts include:

•Laying off an additional eight teacher aides, saving $215,489

•Eliminating all field trips, $13,578

•Eliminating modified sports, $44,830

•Elimination of the After School Assistance Program, $26,800

Since the budget vote and as the administration began the second round of cuts, it was learned they have more BOCES placements and Alternative Education placements (children with special needs) coming to the school next year than anticipated. This called for an additional $326,790.

Therefore, the administration and board made an additional reduction of $334,721 by cutting an additional three aides; moved part of the principal's and secretary's salaries to Title II funding, which comes from the federal government; will not replace a nurse who is leaving, laid off one additional elementary teacher with duties to be picked up by another staff member and eliminated all co-curricular activities. These cuts are due to an unexpected increase in students coming into Lew-Port next year with special needs.

Those cuts in co-curricular activities include, but are not limited to, the musical and drama productions, yearbook, Student Council, class advisors, school newspaper, Honor Society (five members) and a number of clubs, including Key Club, Ski Club, Art Club, Masterminds, Science, Builders and Safety Patrol.

Also, all day pre-kindergarten is eliminated.

At this point 39 positions have been cut, including 10 teaching, 19 teacher aides, two aides due to retirement, and reducing monitors from full- to part-time but maintaining the number.

In order to present the budget that was defeated, the administration and board had moved staff from local budget lines to federal grants where appropriate, made changes in the services provided by BOCES, made cuts in transportation costs, reduced legal fees and overtime, reduced substitute teacher costs, eliminated curriculum and professional development, reduced teacher supply requests, reduced security, reduced summer work for counselors, psychologists and the social worker and made 33 cuts to staffing (included in the count of 39 above).

"There is no fund balance, every penny in the budget was spent," said Roser firmly.

"For anyone in the public to think we have extra money, we do not!"

"Our budget is considerably less than it was five years ago," he went on. "Our staff has been cut significantly from where it was 10 years ago, 20 years ago, let alone five years ago.

"We have been cut $9 million in state aid we normally get. It's gone and it's not coming back anytime soon," said Roser. "We have no place else to go (referring to the tax levy)."

Should the second budget be defeated, and a simple majority is required because the board is not exceeding the tax levy threshold set by New York state, the board would be forced to go to a contingency budget.

Roser explained that at that point the school district would have to make the elementary librarian a 60 percent funded position, the home/careers teacher 60 percent, cut all interscholastic sports and cut three cleaners (meaning that the school buildings would be cleaned every other day).

"What's more important, the quality of education, or things that really aren't mandated?" Roser asked. "People in front of the kids make the difference."

"I would like the legislature to go and get us a higher yield from the poison that comes into this community," said Roser referring to the gross receipts tax paid by a local hazardous waste disposal company.

"Everyone in education is a problem. Their whole system for funding education is a sham and we have to work to change that.

"Instead it's going to be a slow strangle," he continued. "I am not sure this is going to pass. Oh, yeah, I'm worried."

"I can't recommend cutting any more staff," Roser explained. "They make a difference."

"I was surprised at last Tuesday's vote, but I don't think people believe how bad things are," Roser went on. "We don't have pots of money."

"I was disgusted by the way the public perceives this," said board member Keith Fox. "They don't look at the facts and the actual figures. You want everything simplistic. I don't think the general public has any comprehension about what's going on."

Board member Michael Gentile agreed and went on to say that the Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce's publicly not supporting the budget should be addressed.

"They cut our throat," said Gentile. "While it probably didn't make a difference in the vote, we need to address that."

"We are the only direct democratic method and people just don't see what's happening," said board member Jerome Andres. "The older population is reluctant to raise taxes and see their children move out of the area because of taxes."

"People have to get out and get involved," said board member Michael Skowronski. "We had three open positions and only three people were willing to give it a try."

The budget vote will take place Tuesday, June 18, from noon to 8 p.m. in the Community Resource Center.

In other business:

•Students Brennan and Colin O'Mara were recognized for their humanitarian efforts during their vacation helping Haitians rebuild.

•Student Wyatt Wolf was recognized for a second-place finish in the Skills USA Competition for Project Based Engineering I.

In addition, the board:

•Accepted a revision to the current school calendar, which will make June 17, 18 and 19 full days of school with June 19 the last day for students.

•Approved the resignation of Library media specialist Walter E. Cook IV effective June 30.

•Approved the layoffs of 11 teachers.

•Approved the layoffs of 19 teacher aides.

•Approved placing those laid off to a preferred eligibility list for recall within 48 consecutive months, if the budget would permit.

•Granted tenure to Michael Antonelli and Lorraine Yaeger, effective Sept. 1.

•Tabled the school report card review by Roser.

"To hear how well we have done in a meeting where we are eliminating staff that got us there is a conflict," said Roser.

The report will be presented at another meeting.

In other district news:

•Roser commented on the Niagara River Greenway Commission's vote that Lewiston-Porter wasn't consistent with the Greenway Plan in its proposal, and funding could be refused. Roser explained this has happened before and that the proposal would move forward.

The vote to actually fund the project is left with a panel of host municipalities and the New York Power Authority, the Host Community Standing Committee, not the Greenway Commission, which voted against the project.

•Principal Tamara Larson reported that instead of making special items for their mothers, students at her school collected necessary items for mothers in need in honor of Mothers Day.

•Principal Andrew Auer's Intermediate Education students read 160,657 pages, outdoing last year's record, and their reward was putting Auer in a dunk tank with each student having an opportunity to dunk the principal.

The IEC will also hold a paperback book exchange, where students will bring in a used paperback book and exchange it for one they want to read.

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