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Niagara-Wheatfield: Audits, taxes and insurance costs focus of school board meeting

by jmaloni
Thu, Aug 14th 2014 10:45 am

by Autumn Evans

District residents expressed frustration with policies at the Aug. 6 Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District school board meeting.

Sanborn resident RoseMary Warren told the board she was unhappy with the availability of unedited audit reports and vouchers showing where expenses were made.

"The audit committee does not function like I think it should," she said, adding that she wanted the original drafts available to the public because the final reports were edited until they were "watered down to nothing."

The district is currently being audited as part of a standard round of audits of every school district, according to the state comptroller's office. It is expected to finish some time in the fall.

Warren also said she thought the board should discuss budget transfers of more than $20,000 before voting on them.

North Tonawanda resident Paul Bax spoke to the board about veterans' tax exemptions. He said because the board had received the necessary report from the tax assessor, they should have voted on it.

The board addressed this at the end of the meeting, saying they had received a report but it was not broken into homestead and non-homestead properties. They requested a revised version from the assessor's office, but were told the office could not do that.

School district Superintendent Lynn Marie Fusco said most districts do not divide between homestead and non-homestead properties the way Niagara-Wheatfield does, which slowed down the process, but said the board still had time to make their decision.

Bax also requested the district work to make voting more accessible for the elderly. He suggested two additional venues, one at each end of the district, and school buses to transport those who can't drive. Fusco asked Bax to inform his clients about absentee ballots, but Bax said the problem was more complex.

"Many of them are blind. Many of them can't read or write," he said. "They may have a friend or two who can help them, but that's a big issue with the elderly."

Due to board interest in lowering insurance costs, a presentation about insurance deductibles was given by Greg Hawk, the Western New York regional manager for New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal.

The district currently has a $1,000 deductible for building insurance, which costs about $98,000 annually. Hawk said most districts the size of Niagara-Wheatfield have $2,500 to $5,000 deductibles. Switching to a $2,500 deductible would save the district about $7,000 a year.

District Clerk Robin Vertino and School Business Administrator Allison Brady said they would meet with Hawk at a later date to decide where changes were appropriate.

During the presentation, Hawk briefly went over some of the insurance claims made in the district, most of which were vehicle collisions. Hawk said the rate of crashes was slightly higher than comparable districts, but most of the crashes were caused by other drivers hitting school buses and could not be blamed on the district. He praised Head Bus Driver and Safety Director Leslie Buczkowski and said he considered the district's bus drivers to be in the "top echelon" of drivers.

In other board news:

•Peter Canfield, former associate director of special programs, was promoted to director of the program for a three-year probationary term with a salary of $98,916.

•Middle school French teacher Karen D'Angelo proposed a weekend trip to Quebec City in May for seventh- and eighth-grade French students.

•The board decided to abstain from voting in the upcoming Orleans Niagara BOCES election, which will decide its new North Tonawanda representative.

•The board scheduled an additional meeting for 7 p.m. Aug. 20.

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