Niagara Gazette

March 18, 2013

Layoffs on the table in Lew-Port

by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — There’s a definite change in demeanor among the leadership of the Lewiston-Porter School District from a year ago.

Both Superintendent Christopher Roser and Lewiston-Porter United Teachers President Kevin Jaruszewski have been stressing over what could be a game-changing budget proposal for the upcoming 2013-14 school year.

Roser has been worried about having enough revenues to balance a spending plan which, if carried over directly from this year would be $43 million. Revenues, though, appear to be decreasing from the current year, thanks to a loss in state aid.

The combination is likely to cost the jobs of several staff members. What isn’t known is exactly how many, Jaruszewski said.

“I’ve had some conversations with (Roser),” Jaruszewski said. “We don’t have any actual numbers yet. But this is potentially devastating to Lewiston-Porter. We’re not talking just teachers here. This is programs, sports, this is every part of (the district). We’ve seen it before in other districts and now it looks like it’s our turn.

“I thought we would get some help from (Gov. Andrew) Cuomo, but once again, ‘Super Mario’ is destroying education. Just like with the (Annual Professional Performance Reviews) and other things he’s done. It’s that time of year again where people don’t sleep at night.”

It’s still early in the process, but the public will have its first opportunity to address the spending possibilities when the school board meets at 6:30 p.m. tonight in the district’s Community Resource Center board room, 4061 Creek Road, Porter.

Chief among district concerns may be balancing revenues and expenses heading into the next few weeks. The school board will have to ultimately make the decision, but Roser last week mentioned possibly exceeding the state’s tax levy cap, set at 4 percent, as a way of closing what, at its worst, would be a $3.3 million budget gap. The idea was brought up in addition to the cuts he’s already proposing to the staff.

Each percentage point the levy is increased would net the district an additional $223,592 in taxes. To fill the gap entirely without laying off anyone, would require almost a whopping 19 percent tax levy increase.

Jaruszewski, who’s looking to keep as many teachers employed by the district as possible, said he’s had discussions with Roser about possible union concessions in order to save jobs. But until there are final numbers, including an approved state budget expected later this month, there’s little the district can do but speculate.

“We did have conversations,” Jaruszewski said, “and we threw a few ideas out there. My mentality is let’s try to save even one job if we can. But the well is dry and there’s no where to turn. We’re going to have to scramble to get out of this. The damage is coming, we just don’t know how bad it’ll be.”

Last May, voters approved a budget which increased the district’s tax levy by 3.51 percent and eliminated a handful of positions, especially at the elementary level.

More cuts, especially if as drastic as feared, would cause a disruption to some of the district’s programs afforded at the district’s youngest levels. These programs, including the district’s looping of staff between the district’s primary and intermediate education centers, are considered among the tops in Niagara County, according to PEC principal Tamara Larson.

“The amount of time and success we have demonstrated has led to some of our staff becoming consultants of sorts,” she said. “Our vision is to grow our programs and to get families into the Lewiston-Porter family earlier than normal in these tough financial times.”

One of the primary concerns administrators like Larson and IEC principal Andrew Auer expressed when asked to present their administrative budgets was concerning technology.

State-wide examinations could soon be switched to an online-only format and officials feel the district needs to do more to ensure when that happens, the students are not only prepared but also able to participate. This includes fully staffing the IEC’s computer labs by switching the responsibilities of one or more of the teachers already in the building.

“There’s a gap that exists,” Auer said. “I think it’s something we need to address. With online exams on the horizon, we need to look at this. I’m not proposing a new hire here, we’re looking at ways of shifting what we currently have.”

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