Residents of the Lewiston-Porter School District overwhelmingly approved the $49.092 million budget for fiscal year 2020-21 Tuesday in a first-ever exclusive absentee ballot vote.
According to unofficial results released that evening, by a count of 2,644 in favor to 1,183 against, voters decidedly voiced their approval for the plan that maintains Lew-Port student programs, covers a number of cost increases and maintains staffing.
Voters also lent favor to Lew-Port’s ongoing capital improvement project of district buildings that continues to 2024. The final count was 2,450 to 1,369 opposed, which will now see HVAC and air conditioning work in the Primary and Intermediate Education buildings, plus new turf and lighting for the district’s athletic fields, among other improvements on the Lew-Port campus.
In the Board of Education race that saw four candidates vying for three open seats, incumbent Danielle M. Mullen won reelection to a three-year term with 2,690 votes. Newcomers Charlotte Huebeschmann was elected to a three-year term with 2,404 votes while Jennifer Klemick (2,377 votes) won election to a one-year term that began June 17. Mullen and Huebeschmann will begin their terms on July 1.
Candidate Anika Fetzner finished fourth with 1,830 votes.
School districts in Niagara-Wheatfield and North Tonawanda saw record voter turnout this year as voters in both districts approved their proposed budgets on June 16. The results mirrored those statewide where 99% of school budgets were on track to win approval by voters, according to a preliminary analysis by New York State United Teachers.
In North Tonawanda, a budget of $81,016,940 was approved by voters 2,993 to 1,240. It’s anticipated that there will be a zero percent tax levy increase based on the budget.
Throughout the budget process, the North Tonawanda school board indicated it wanted to use more reserve funds to offset a loss of tax revenue as a temporary measure to provide relief to taxpayers.
A second proposition allowing for the purchase of buses was approved 3,367 to 944. The proposition allows for the purchase of 21 large, 66-passenger Type C school buses; two Type A school buses; and one small Type A wheelchair school bus.
According to the district’s Budget Newsletter, “This will allow the District to keep the tax levy at a 0% increase and purchase buses using reserves. This is part of the long-term financial plan put in place last year to use savings to finance the purchase of the fleet.”
Lastly, a third proposition was approved 3,068 to 1,097, allowing the district to get an additional 10% state aid on the costs needed to implement energy performance improvements.
According to the newsletter, “This extra aid along with the energy and maintenance savings from the new LED lights and boilers at North Tonawanda Intermediate and Ohio Elementary schools will help the District keep taxes low in future budgets. This is also part of the long-term financial plan to continue to cut operational costs.”
In the school board election, incumbents Matthew Kennedy and Zachary Niemiec won reelection with 2,704 and 2,572 votes, respectively.
Afterward, Kennedy, the incumbent board president, shared his outlook for the upcoming year.
“The district’s in a really good position as far as this budget goes, we’re still being at a zero rate (levy increases) which is great for taxpayers, but I think the district’s in a good position for this particular budget to execute on the year. Next year’s funding process is very uncertain. We don’t know what that will look like. Obviously, the governor and the Legislature will continue to give us updates as it goes along, but I have a feeling that next year’s budget will not be not as easy, unfortunately,” Kennedy said.
He also extended support to candidates Jeremy Geartz and Jacob Quinn.
“I really thank them for getting involved in the race. Everyone put their best foot forward and offered some good comments and got some good feedback, and I hope they’ll continue to be involved in the process, because we have a seven-member board, but it takes more voices than just our seven members,” Kennedy said. “I think it makes sense to have good civil discourse and to give the community different perspectives. … We’re all from different walks of life, so I think the other candidates definitely brought some unique perspective.”
Niemiec praised the overall voter turnout this year and said absentee voting is something he would like to see more of as it encourages people to be involved in the electoral process.
Niemiec also expressed gratitude to his supporters and explained why this year meant so much to him.
“It was actually kind of special for me. I was one of the first openly gay elected officials in Niagara County, and with it now being Pride Month, and with the election moving to that, it was reassuring that people from all walks of life could stand up and take to representation in their community,” he said.
Niemiec also went on to thank Geartz and Quinn and encouraged them not to get discouraged.
“I hope that they continue to participate in the process. There’s always ways to get involved. There’s committees where community members can serve alongside our district, and I encourage them to work with us because they can bring insights that some of us might not be aware of,” Niemiec said.
In the Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District, a $77,119,627 budget for the 2020-21 school year was approved 3,213 to 1,397. The figures represent a 3.66% increase from last year as the board works to offset a lack of funds coming in from New York due to the coronavirus. While the budget includes a 1.69% tax levy increase, most of the budget is slated to be paid through reserves the district has on hand.
Another proposition authorizing the district to expend from its capital reserves passed 3,647 to 1,123. The capital reserves allow the district to continue to pay for the capital projects currently in progress. A third and final proposition authorizing the district to expend from its capital transportation reserve to pay for new buses passed 3,531-1,123.
In the school board election, incumbent Jason Myers secured reelection with 2,603 votes, while Michael Lee and John Forcucci picked up the remaining two seats with 2178 and 1999 votes, respectively. Incumbent board Vice President Darren Sneed finished sixth with 1,627 votes. Board member Gina Terbot, who did not seek reelection after serving on the board for six years, vacated the third seat on the board.
Following his win, Myers shared the following message on the Wheatfield, NY Community page:
“Thank you to everyone who supported my re-election to the school board – I am humbled and grateful to be able to serve another term! Also, congratulations to Mike Lee and John Forcucci on your election victories. I look forward to working with you on the board! And a big thank you to the NW community for passing the budget!”
In a phone call with the Tribune, Myers added, “I know a lot of things are still up in the air on what things are going to look like when we get back to school in the fall, but we’re hoping to get things as close to normal as possible, as soon as possible. We’re doing whatever we can to make sure everyone is safe as far as sanitation goes, making sure we get new equipment and the buildings are cleaned well.”
He went on to say he’s content where the district is financially going into next year and hopes the board can “keep the budget in check while providing a great education.”
The Tribune was unable to reach Forcucci or Lee for comment.