Niagara Gazette

Lewiston

January 21, 2014

While other districts see increases, Lew-Port stripped of state aid in Cuomo's budget

Niagara Gazette — When Lewiston-Porter Superintendent Christopher Roser needed some good news from Albany Tuesday, he was met with a bushel of rotten apples.

Less than a week after state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office revealed Lew-Port's significant fiscal stress level, second-highest among the state's more than 600 school districts, Roser received projections for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive budget and its run of projected state aid to each school district.

Lew-Port is once again on an island in Niagara County, with Cuomo's numbers forecasting the district to lose $189,000 in state funding next year, the only one in the area.

"I'm speechless," Roser said in dismay. "This is a huge setback."

Roser originally bemoaned the comptroller's report because of a number of financial concerns he has no control over. It's a perfect storm, he said. The fiscal stress monitoring system pegged his district at 82 percent stressed financially using data derived from this past school year.

Yet, Roser said, the state continues to insist on its gap elimination adjustment – or GEA – as part of its budgeting process. Created under the watch of former Gov. David Paterson, the GEA served as the state's way of recuperating money following the housing market crash in 2007 and the subsequent Wall Street crisis to close a multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

But Roser said it serves another purpose now, to force districts to spend the savings they'd built up – rightly or not – for rainy days. Unfortunately for Lew-Port residents, Roser said his rainy day fund dried up last year.

He said he hoped the current year's budget, which eliminated 43 positions despite a tax levy increase of almost 4 percent for residents, would serve as a benchmark moving the district into a new normal. He said the district was careful to save as many programs it could while making precise cuts instead of just eliminating course offerings students enjoyed but the district couldn't afford.

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