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Niagara-Wheatfield faces more cuts

by jmaloni
Thu, Jun 13th 2013 01:25 pm

by Janet Schultz

The Niagara-Wheatfield Board of Education at its June 5 meeting answered concerns about transportation service and its costs to the district, as well as continued to look for more ways to cut its proposed budget.

Mark Walsh of Transportation Advisory Services told the board that Niagara-Wheatfield, in the agency's opinion, is not in a position to contract out its transportation department.

He explained that there are several options that allow districts to do this, and N-W doesn't meet any of those options. Many of the obstacles, while not all of them, include labor agreements and the length of time it would take to negotiate and implement sourcing out this service.

"I've looked at the economics of your program and, more importantly, I've had the opportunity to look at your labor agreement, operating protocols and in my opinion it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for this school district to go through a conversion process from public sector to private sector," said Walsh.

In order to look at conversion, Walsh explained, the first part of the process is decision and impact bargaining under the Taylor Law. It states that, in order to convert, because employees are unionized, there are three scenarios. A labor agreement can provide one the right to subcontract and negotiate financial impact. Niagara-Wheatfield's labor agreement does not provide this, he said.

Next is a labor agreement that is silent with no reference at all to outsourcing. This, also, is not relevant to Niagara-Wheatfield.

The third, which is where Niagara-Wheatfield falls, is an agreement that prohibits outsourcing or has language dealing with decisions impacting bargaining.

The district would be required to provide the union with the notice that they have a right to negotiate to subcontract.

In Walsh's experience he sees the union's response as being negative, which may require the district to hire labor counsel.

"If you were to go through the process and were successful," continued Walsh, "I think best case you are looking at 18 months and legal fees in six digits."

Walsh went on to detail how these decisions are reached, as well as the cost and length of time it would take.

If they went through all this and wanted to continue, the second phase would be to negotiate with the union the financial terms of the conversion. This means that the district would have to spend a certain dollar amount to buy-out the employees' accrued days, sick days and benefits because they would no longer be part of the public retirement system.

When all this was settled, the district could then develop bid specifications that would go out publically for companies to bid on the job. Law requires this.

"Best case scenario is that the conversion wouldn't happen for three years from now," said Walsh.

"Niagara Wheatfield's costs are reasonable and competitive," said Walsh. "I see no significant issues that you would have to outsource."

"If you are competitive, stay that way," he urged. "If you can't run it efficiently, then outsource."

One of the recommendations from TAS is for Niagara-Wheatfield to look at its labor agreements with regard to paid sick days, overtime and operating procedures.

"Your best transportation is having the same driver on the same route every day," Walsh remarked. "An aggressive, well-funded attendance program is effective."

•Board President Steven Sabo rescinded a motion made at the last board meeting calling for $430,000 in cuts in the middle school team and support staff.

Instead he made a motion for the cuts to total $403,050 that reflects the reduction in the tax levy. This sets the budget for 2013-14 at $62,753,100 and a 4.5 percent tax levy increase.

These cuts will include reducing teachers in social studies, science, English language arts and art; reducing hours for two teacher aides; reduction in a monitor; and cutting one clerical position.

The district still needs to make $42,987 in cuts and those will be brought to the board shortly.

Residents attending the meeting asked the board to share, in writing, what cuts will be on-the-line if the budget doesn't pass, and the district will be required to go to a contingency budget.

"Obviously we are coming to a very difficult time for schools in New York state," said Sabo. "The number of schools reported as being insolvent in the next year is growing.

 "The cost-per-student ratio which you will see in Business First and efficiency ratings are taken from data from a year ago," he continued.

"People don't understand the cost per student and depending on what services a student requires can go up and down."

Sabo cited the recent increase in special education funding needed by Lewiston-Porter. After they had made cuts to their budget, they found they needed to increase the special education funding.

"There are so many things we have to provide for students in order to give them a successful education that drives the costs up," said Sabo.

"Please remember that when looking at Business First and other publications," he urged.

•The board also passed a resolution that will be sent on the New York Legislature asking that the referendum to redefine the boundaries of the relicensing settlement agreement with the New York Power Authority be rejected.

Similar resolutions have been passed by local townships and the Lewiston-Porter Central School District as being contrary to the interests of the school districts and townships.

•The budget vote will be held Tuesday, June 18, from noon to 8 p.m. in the Adult Learning Center at the high school.

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