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By Terry Duffy
Attending Lewiston-Porter residents learned more Tuesday on what the $48.487 million district budget for 2019-20 entails – its goals, district concerns, what went into its development, and what Lew-Port students and the community can look forward to over the next year.
Patricia E. Grupka, Ed. D, Lew-Port assistant superintendent for administrative services, said the district’s focus remains on the future as she opened her budget presentation, held in the Lewiston-Porter High School library.
“Every year we look at what we do to maintain and grow programs,” Grupka said.
She said the priorities for Lewiston-Porter students in the proposed spending plan are focused on STEM; one-on-one computing and instructional support; maintaining current offerings such as student immersion and AP Honors, and providing a safe community for students and staff.
“We always also have to look at the fiscal responsibility of the budget,” Grupka said, adding that district residents, unlike municipal taxpayers, do have a say on this.
She said areas the district had to address involved substantial salary and benefit increases for staff, including health insurance and retirement costs, and minimum wage increases. Grupka said Lew-Port, faced with the 2% tax cap is dealing with a health insurance increase of 8.9% and minimum wage increases over the next few years of 5.6%.
Added to that are unfunded state mandates – a yearly issue – and increased student transportation costs – up $800,000 from last year. On top of that was an unanticipated increase in special education students to Lew-Port and the related costs, plus $400,000 for related special education transportation costs.
Pointing out that Lewiston-Porter also has to work within the state’s mandated 2% tax cap, Grupka, she said that “for revenues and expenses at the end of the day they have to be the same number.”
Lewiston-Porter’s revenues include the tax levy, state aid, and fund balance. Grupka called this “our rainy day money.” Lewiston-Porter, which is regarded on the state level as being a “high-income district,” sees the greatest portion of its revenue coming from the tax levy.
Further explaining the 2% formula, Grupka said it includes “a growth factor, exclusions, PILOTs (revenue from the area’s business activity) – all kinds of different things.”
“You project your local revenues, estimate your state aid, look at all of your programs and costs, and what you want to do” – items under Lewiston-Porter’s Strategic Plan.
“(You) analyze how the levy is to be used, and the levy divided by the assessment equals the tax rates.”
She said Lew-Port’s 2% tax cap for this year is actually 4.88% – a potential $561,000 increase. “We are trying to stay true to that 2% – I know that is meaningful to the taxpayers,” she said.
“So we are proposing an increase to the levy. To do that we (have) $1.7 million of fund balance. That is a tremendous amount of fund balance for a budget our size,” Grupka said.
She said some of that was preplanned due to outstanding debt. “We knew we had four years where capital debt load was going to be a little higher.”
Noting Lew-Port’s expected increase in state aid this year, she said that when one looks at the numbers and district costs it’s deceptive. “In ’18-19, our state aid was $16.6 million, in ’19-20 it’s $17.6 – it’s a difference of over a million dollars. $893,000 was completely directed at transportation … and $111,000 was building aid, directed to capital debt.
“So what you actually look, after those two numbers are fluffed over, it’s really very, very little,” she said of state aid to the district.
As to the budget itself Grupka said it includes the program component – the cost of educating Lew-Port students (teachers, the cost of athletics, transportation, special education support, etc.) That eats up 71.4% percent of the budget. The capital component (the cost of district improvements, capital repairs, debt service, largely funded from state aid) is 21%. The administrative component, the cost of running the district is 7.4%.
Of Lew-Port’s $48.487 million budget, that translates to $34.6 million for the program component, $10.2 million in capital and $3.5 million in administration. She said under the current plan Lew-Port would utilize $27 million from the tax levy revenue at 1.99% with remaining monies derived from PILOT derived sources in the district, state aid including New York Power Authority funding and Greenway funding, plus the aforementioned $1.7 million in fund balance.
Grupka said the district, acknowledging the ongoing declines in student enrollment, has eliminated three teaching positions and 1.6 teacher aids, with cuts coming from attrition.
As to the financial impact – to the taxpaying property owners in the towns of Lewiston and Porter, Grupka said this would vary due to a situation of unequal assessments that exists between the two towns. Both have changed over the past year.
As a result, Grupka said the tax impact to the owner of a $150,000 assessed Lewiston property, with basic STAR would be an estimated increase of $86.52 or a tax bill of $3,334.53. For the owner of a similar assessed property in the Town of Porter, it would be a tax decrease of $80.89 or a tax bill of $2,919.82.
Lewiston-Porter currently has a student enrollment of 2,000, including out of district and international students. That number does not include Lew-Port’s pre-K students.
Following Grupka’s presentation, Board of Education incumbents Jodee Riordan and Betty VanDenBosch-Warrick joined with candidate Anne Orr in a Meet the Candidates Q&A session led by senior class members of District Key Communicators from the high school.