Nothing is final yet, but the Lewiston-Porter school board is narrowing down its spending cuts leading up to its second budget vote later this month.
Though Superintendent R. Christopher Roser did spend some time Monday, during a special meeting of the board, explaining what he's reinstated into the preliminary spending plan and what's been taken out.
Like modified sports, which last week sat on the cutting room floor of the budget process. This week, many of the popular sports middle schoolers in the seventh and eighth grades enjoy were back to being funded with only three exceptions. And co-curricular activities, the afterschool clubs which students almost need in today's competitive college application process, are also back after a brief absence.
The trade-off, Roser said, is coming by way of some cuts which could leave the district a little rough around the edges.
"We're going to have to be selective in what we're going to do because we're going to cut down on cleaning rather than cut anymore staff who are going to deal with kids," he said. "The bathrooms will be clean, the garbage cans are probably going to get emptied, but not every classroom is going to be swept, not every chalkboard is going to be wiped down."
The staff is also taking a bit of a hit again, this time in the middle school home and careers field. Roser said Middle School Principal Dean Ramirez suggested the program's requirement could be met with a part-time teacher, which could save the district $24,000.
Middle school art will also feel the pain of budget cuts, as the district will reduce its non-mandated art offerings to one day per week for sixth grade and eliminate one of its two art credits for seventh and eighth grades.
"We were offering more than the state said we had to," Roser said. "We'll reduce it down to the bare minimum of what's required. I'll leave it up to (Ramirez) to determine how to schedule art, we may break it up to do half-years for seventh and eighth grades."
His plan also hinges on another, unspecified teacher currently on extended leave continuing to remain out of the district, which he said he's been notified of the request. This helps the district realize $75,000 in savings, he said.
While specific spending items are being debated, what is set in stone heading into the district's second vote Tuesday, June 18, is the amount of spending proposed and the tax levy increase the district is asking residents to accept.
From the beginning, Roser's plan already proposed eliminating more than 30 positions heading into next year. The extra positions this round of cuts leaves a total of 75 staff members, including 36 teachers, without a job since 2009.
After failing with the original $40 million plan — which reduced overall spending by almost $500,000 from this year — and a proposed 5.5 percent levy increase in May, the board has come back below New York state's property tax cap to 3.95 percent, which puts the spending at approximately $39.6 million.
It represents a decrease in spending — despite the tax increase attached to it — by 2 percent from this year. It's a situation which has left everyone involved shaking their heads, upset over the future of the district. Tensions have flared between board members and administrators concerning the budget process, which Roser said has been "exasperating" since December.
But if the proposed spending plan fails to earn 50 percent of the district's voters, there'll be almost $900,000 more in cuts on top of what is already proposed. This means more teachers losing their jobs, more programs eliminated and at least two of the three non-mandated programs Niagara-Wheatfield is also contending with gone in Lew-Port as well.
Roser has proposed, if the budget fails, to reduce kindergarten to half-day ($182,000) and the elimination of all sports throughout the district ($448,000), among other cuts.
"I never wanted to go here, because it always sounds like a threat," Roser said. "I think you have to look at all things have cut, figure out if this thing does not pass at 3.95 percent, what are we really looking at? Our difference is $894,000 we have to make up, and that's not going to be easy. We've already cut staff."
Contingency, under the state's law, also would eliminate the district's ability to allow the public to use its facilities without charging a fee.
The potential loss of part of kindergarten has many, including Board President Jodee Riordan, upset with the state of the district.
Riordan said families plan around children and some, especially mothers, don't work full-time for years after their children are born to save money otherwise spent at daycare.
Delaying their return to the workforce by another year could be particularly harmful to the economy, she said.
"Kindergarten is not exactly daycare, but people plan their lives around trying to take care of their kids," she said. "You do what you need to do. All you hear from the IDAs and from our friends at Niagara-USA is 'jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs.' We're laying people off and I'm not hearing 'save all these people's jobs.' Or the impact going to half-day pre-k or half-day kindergarten would have."