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Complex, $46.7M Lewiston-Porter budget up for vote

Sat, May 12th 2018 07:00 am
Dr. Patricia Grupka discusses Lewiston-Porter's 2018-19 budget. (Photos by Terry Duffy)
Dr. Patricia Grupka discusses Lewiston-Porter's 2018-19 budget. (Photos by Terry Duffy)
2018-19 plan includes cost increases, funding, staff cuts
By Terry Duffy
Editor-in-Chief
With the districtwide budget/Board of Education vote set for Tuesday, May 15, Lewiston-Porter residents gained a wealth of insight into the intricate, $46,746,521 spending plan for 2018-19 in on-campus presentations this week.
In her detailed presentation on Wednesday, Dr. Patricia E. Grupka, Lew-Port assistant superintendent of administrative services, spoke of the good and also the many challenges behind the development of this year's budget - one that reflects a 4.15 percent increase in spending over last year's $44.8 million plan.
"We looked at the goals of the district as a whole; one of our goals is to maintain a growth program. We're in the business of education for students," Grupka said.
Expanding on this, Grupka said Lew-Port has focused and continues to concentrate first on instruction and excellence by maintaining, enhancing and growing its educational programs for Lew-Port's K-12 student body to achieve the highest standards of success.
She said this cost, listed under program components, amounts to $33.4 million, or 71.5 percent, of spending in the district's $46.7 million plan. Other cost items having an impact on this budget are capital at $9.8 million (21.1 percent) and the administrative component at $3.4 million (7.32 percent).
Grupka stressed Lew-Port sees providing a safe environment for its students and staff as a priority.
Above all, she said Lewiston-Porter strives to fund this budget in the most fiscally responsible manner for its taxpayers.
"For us, this is the only vote that taxpayers have when it comes to paying taxes. So it is very important that we deliver something that is fiscally responsible," Grupka said.
She went on to outline a number of problem areas that proved a challenge for the district as budget planning/development continued over past months. Among them: teacher retirement contributions went up by $289,214, significantly impacting the budget; and district transportation costs, which had a $774,968 impact on the budget. "The biggest impact on budget this year is the changes in our transportation contract. It was out of the district's control."
Grupka explained Lewiston-Porter has been with Ransomville Bus Services for more than 50 years, but, due to limits placed by the state on the cost of transportation funded per the consumer price index for renewals - a figure of 1.6 percent over the past five years - funds would be insufficient for Ransomville operators to maintain their own operational costs (from busses to labor). As a result, Lewiston-Porter was forced to enter the bid market for student transit alternatives, and that has proven both difficult and costly.
"They (Ransomville) decided not to renew our contract this year. Therefore we went out to bid," Grupka said.
She said a first bid process saw no takers; then a second attempt and a new company responded with a bid 85 percent higher than the previous Ransomville contract.
"We were able to negotiate (that) down, but it still resulted in approximately an $800,000 increase to our budget. That includes eliminating a few runs, eliminating some late runs," Grupka said.
Other major expenditures this year are $600,105 in special education costs and $475,831 in capital debt.
All four total $2,140,118 in added costs - reflecting a yearly budget-to-budget increase of $1,864,400.
And there are other costs resulting in district spending increases this year, Grupka said. Among them, minimum wage increases for various Lew-Port employees: custodians, teacher aides and monitors. Also unfunded mandates - beyond special education costs, Grupka said, there's also costs the district has to comply with.
"When we get those mandates, we have to follow the rules," she said.
Added to this is capital debt restructuring needs that Lew-Port has had to address over the past four years via adjustments to fund balance accounts.
Taking a look at revenues and expenditures contained in this year's plan, Grupka said the two must equal each other. With regard to revenues, she said Lewiston-Porter has "very few places to get revenue from. Most of our revenue, unfortunately, comes from the taxpayers."
She noted Lewiston-Porter received a "much lower" amount of state aid than was broadcast by the governor's office in its budget announcements. Lew-Port received a total of $16,635,785 for 2018-19 - a mere $84,000 increase from last year. And despite the district being the recipient of such assistance as Greenway and New York Power Authority funding, "that money always goes toward capital projects and capital debt. It's not a choice (for anything else)," Grupka said.
In discussing the tax rate for 2018-19 under the $46.7 million plan for district taxpayers, Grupka said an actual figure will not be available until after the Tuesday vote. She said Lew-Port could have presented a state-allowable 2 percent tax levy increase of 3.886 percent, resulting in a $26,799,998 tax levy to voters, but it chose not to.
Instead, the Lewiston-Porter budget for voters to consider Tuesday will contain a tax levy increase of 2.99 percent, or $26,586,882. The difference in the two figures would be absorbed by $1,740,000 in fund balance.
Grupka said the budget would fund all the aforementioned increases (teacher retirements, transportation, special education and capital debt), but does not provide for any salary increases.
"It's been an extraordinary year, budgetarily," she said.
Discussing actual tax rates, Grupka said Lewiston-Porter projects an estimated tax rate increase of 37 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation for Lewiston property owners - up to $25.11 - and an increase of 91 cents for Porter property owners - up to $23.37.
Grupka said that, due to tax rates being based on equalization rates, plus other factors, the towns of Lewiston and Porter are not equalized, "so they are not equalized what the tax rate will be."
For a Lewiston property assessed at $150,000, estimated taxes are $3,246.72 - an increase of $62.69. For a Porter property assessed at $150,000, estimated taxes are $2,972.66 - an increase of $115.75.
"For the richness of the programming that we offer, while we never want to increase taxes, I think we are getting a great bang for our buck," Grupka said.
She explained the budget does contain cuts: "This was a tough year; we really sat down a few times in doctoring this budget."
Among the cuts: three part-time teaching positions; five teacher aides and one monitor; one clerical position; the elimination of a $200,000 capital outlay project; decreases in contractual and supply codes across all buildings and departments; and decreased funding for retirement incentives.
Should the budget not pass, Grupka said a contingency budget of $45,796,848 would reflect $914,000 in cuts across the board.
"There would be a zero tax increase," she said.
But there would be cuts - 8.8 teaching positions across the district; the elimination of four additional teacher aid positions; one teaching assistant; and one administrative position. Plus, the elimination of all after-school and before-school clubs, all modified sports, all late buses and field trips; all equipment funds; plus cuts to supplies and other support.
"This is the worse-case scenario, but we don't have any fat left in this budget, so we have to look at other things," Grupka said. "There are already cuts ... it could be devastating."
She expressed hope the $46.7 million plan wins approval.
In addition to the budget, Lew-Port residents will cast their votes Tuesday for three Board of Education candidates who are running uncontested: incumbents Betty VanDenBosch-Warrick and Gemma Fournier, and newcomer Natalie Beilein. All three fielded questions for Lewiston-Porter High School seniors in a "Meet the Candidates" session this week.
For more information on this year's BOE candidates, see their profiles in The Link budget issue, online at www.lew-port.com, and delivered to district residences.
Incumbents Betty VanDenBosch-Warrick and Gemma Fournier and newcomer Natalie Beilein at this week's "Meet the Candidates" session.

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