Niagara Gazette

April 29, 2013

Lew-Port superintendent, some board members not keen on trying to exceed tax cap.

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — There’s two different lines of thinking emerging on the current Lewiston-Porter school board.

Last week, the seven-member board voted to adopt its 2013-14 spending plan, which was decided would increase its tax levy by 5.5 percent. The number exceeds the district’s tax levy threshold set by a state formula and will require a supermajority of 60 percent of district voters to be approved.

When school board President Jodee Riordan called for a roll call ballot, the first response was a bit shocking. Jerome Andres said no.

“I thought (Superintendent) Chris Roser’s initial budget was, while tough, reasonable,” Andres said after the vote. “Strategically, I don’t think it was a good idea to go over the cap. We have to ask our voters to also approve a $26 million project and I don’t think it was a good idea.”

Roser’s original plan he recommended included a series of staffing cuts which would leave the district with almost 10 less teaching positions, several support staff cut and one administrator below current levels. It also cut the district’s popular afterschool program used by struggling high school students and modified sports for middle school students, which about half the school’s population participated in this past year.

Roser also provided a list of reinstatements he thought the board could consider, but never endorsed exceeding the tax cap, which stood at 4 percent in the district.

In fact, Roser recommended not exceeding the cap, which is determined by a series of exemptions and calculations which modify the initial 2 percent to which the law holds municipalities. 

Andres wasn’t the only one who sided with Roser’s opinion, as board newcomer Mollie Lucas joined in moments later. The budget was adopted by a 5-2 vote.

While Andres worried about trying to get all of its spending approved, board member Keith Fox was worried about the district’s layoffs. Fox, a retired teacher in the Niagara Falls district, said he couldn’t rightly agree with a budget plan which eliminated as many positions as Roser’s plan.

“If you’ve ever been laid off, you can understand the hardships the staff will be going through,” Fox said. “I really believe we have a fantastic school district here and I believe the people will do the right thing.”

One area district officials have focused on recently is the situation New York put the district in financially. They believe failures on the state’s part, like the continuation of the Gap Elimination Adjustment originally instituted by Gov. David Paterson following the housing market collapse in 2008, directly contributed to a potential tax increase above the levy limit.

And they may be correct.

Lewiston-Porter is responsible for paying state aid back to Albany, as will every school district, in 2013. It’s responsible for $1.8 million, a figure which if allowed to remain at Lew-Port would eliminate the need for any tax levy increase at all. It balances Roser’s budget, though it still requires the cuts he originally proposed.

Riordan said pressure from New York is the prime reason the district is turning to the taxpayers for additional support.

“We all pay money to New York state,” the board president said. “And every year, they fail to pay us what they promise us in their formulas. We have no other choice but to turn to the taxpayer.”

BIG RED NUMBER 5.5 Percentage increase in the tax levy in Lew-Port's 2013-14 spending plan. It exceeds the tax cap.

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