Niagara Gazette — Following the defeat of its first budget proposal for 2013-14, Lewiston-Porter school board members must now decide how to approach a limited second opportunity.
One thing’s for sure, though. Whatever is decided on at the district’s next school board meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the district’s community resource building, 4061 Creek Road, Lewiston, it’s a final effort to avoid what many feel would be a cataclysmic event should a budget not be passed.
“(Tuesday) we’re going to establish where we want to go as far as bringing forward a new tax levy for residents to vote on,” School Board President Jodee Riordan said. “A contingency budget would take us to (this) year’s tax levy rate. But the state cut $1.9 million from us for next year. We were already below last year’s budget. With our lack of aid, we’re still looking to present a tax levy increase, but one which is more palpable for the community.”
The district’s failed attempt featured a $40 million spending plan, one which reduced spending from 2012-13 despite a massive proposed tax levy increase.
According to the state’s property tax cap law, which provides for a formula to calculate the district’s cap based on unfunded mandates like pension contributions exceeding 2 percent, Lew-Port can seek up to 4 percent more in tax levy without needing to override the law. The failed budget last week asked residents to support a 5.5 percent levy hike.
Riordan said though nothing is official, it’s not a forgone conclusion the board will automatically look to have voters pass the maximum levy increase. Some board members may seek a figure below the highest number.
Leading up to the board’s decision to try to override the cap in April, Superintendent R. Christopher Roser presented a spending plan which featured a 4 percent increase. In it, he proposed eliminating programs like modified sports for middle school students, an afterschool assistance program for struggling high schoolers and 11 teaching positions as part of about 30 layoffs across the district, among other things.
Board members sought to add two teachers and both programs back in, but watched as the proposal went up in flames at the voting booth Tuesday.
Roser’s original plan is just one of the options being considered, Riordan said.
“As far as the budget is concerned, we’re going back to the drawing board,” Riordan said. “We’re open to suggestions from anyone in the community. We’re looking to find out what the community will accept.”
While the board deliberates how to find the money, the district’s teachers are concerned what a failed budget will do to future class sizes in the district.
Lewiston-Porter United Teachers President Kevin Jaruszewski said whatever plan is developed, the teachers union likely wouldn’t be able to handle many more cuts. The union has seen more than 70 positions eliminated or reduced in the last four years.
“I don’t think we can survive anymore layoffs,” he said. “I think it’s going to have to come from other places, like from the extracurriculars. And then we’d have to go to the non-mandated programs, unfortunately. Sports alone is $440,000. I would like the district to get creative in that way. It’s tough, but where else are we going to take from?”
In the end, though, Jaruszewski is hopeful many citizens attend Tuesday’s board meeting simply so they can get educated about what is happening in the district. With the vote on the next budget set for June 18, there’s little time left before another decision needs to be made and it’s imperative, he said, for everyone to be aware of what’s at stake.
“My No. 1 goal right now is to make sure the community is educated so we can get this budget passed,” he said. “Because if it isn’t, we’re looking at Draconian cuts.”Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.