Niagara Gazette

April 17, 2013

Teacher concession talk on table at Lew-Port

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Christopher Roser is a desperate man heading into the final week of budget preparation in the Lewiston-Porter School District.

Roser, the superintendent responsible for assembling a spending plan which could see 41 staff members – of which more than 12 are teachers – either lose their jobs or see their hours drastically cut, is looking for help saving money any place he can.

Once again, he's turning to the teachers union, the group likely to feel the worst effects of the cuts, to try to save as much money as possible. 

"We're requesting the union continue paying 10 percent of its health care contributions," Roser said.

Roser's latest budget session, held during Tuesday's school board meeting, projected the district would spend $39.2 million in 2013-14, even with any health care concession the union approves. He also tossed out the idea of exceeding New York state's property tax levy cap, which currently sits at 4 percent.

Officially, the district's teachers agreed to contribute 7 percent next year after a deal was instituted last April to avoid job losses heading into the current school year. Its members are currently contributing 10 percent this year as part of the concession.

Increasing the union's contributions, which would be paid out of a $1 million trust in the union's name, would provide Roser with $128,000, which would save approximately two additional teaching positions.

But Lewiston-Porter united Teachers President Kevin Jaruszewski said Roser has yet to formally approach his executive board with any formal proposal for saving the district any money. In fact, he said, Roser has yet to provide him with much information at all concerning any possible scenarios, including a possible one-year wage freeze members could adopt to save jobs.

"We wanted to run numbers to see what the impact would be," Jaruszewski said about a wage freeze. "But we never got any numbers from the district. So we've had discussions, but they haven't been in depth."

Jaruszewski has publicly supported the district exceeding the property tax levy cap as a way of funding more teacher positions. But he's not against taking the cut in pay or surrendering extra money for health insurance payment if it saves a job, two or 10.

"No one wants to hear the 'C' word," he said. "Concession. But in this situation, I believe we would all rather save teachers than worry about that. And I would be the first person to make any concession to save a job here."

But he isn't going to just take any deal thrown in front of his face, he said. The district can't be looking to just cover up a wound with a one-year fix, which he called a "band-aid."

Like the union's health care payments, there needs to be some sort of assurance the concession will affect more than just one year.

He said it would likely be in the district's and the union's best interest to take whatever layoffs are proposed this year rather than simply delay the pain until next year, when political climates could force another desperate budget year in Lew-Port.

"It can't just be a bandage," he said. "We'll need to see exactly what it saves. But if it's only a Band-Aid and puts it off until next year, we've got to take the hit. Education is a business now, and we don't have the means to generate enough revenue."

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.