by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — After Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his executive budget last week, many people saw the increase in general state aid to public school districts as a positive.
Lewiston-Porter Superintendent Christopher Roser, meanwhile, was speechless. And not in a good way.
The district was hit hard by circumstances beyond its control in Cuomo's proposal, including the loss of approximately $300,000 – from its current number of $491,475 to $147,442 – in what is called high-tax aid.
"We don't have an industrial base here and a lot of the property is actually tax exempt," Roser said. "So it's on the property owners. and because our taxes are so heavily based on homeowners in the community, there was a built-in formula to overcome this. But this has all changed and we're getting significantly less aid."
Tax exempt properties within the borders of Lew-Port really is a problem for the district, as the New York Power Authority and no less than five state parks – including Joseph Davis, Artpark and Four-Mile Creek campgrounds – are not responsible for paying money to the district.
Cuomo's third budget proposal, released last week, calls for $21.08 billion in school aid for 2013-14, a 4.4 percent increase from current year levels. But it's hard to see Roser and the Lew-Port family excited.
The lack of joy stems from the overall picture the district faces in planning next year's spending plan. Because not only will the high-tax aid be reduced, but the district is also set to see both transportation funding ($107,000) and BOCES – Board of Cooperative Educational Services – aid ($147,000) will also be slashed, based on district's student population.
Roser said declining enrollment at the district caused the formulas to shift more funding away from the school to other areas, despite increases in spending to both categories through 2012-13.
Things aren't entirely depressing at the district. It will receive, if the governor's proposal is adopted later this year, approximately $81,000 in the reduction of the state's gap elimination adjustment. Instituted by former Gov. David Paterson following the housing market collapse fallout in 2008, the GEA was created to help the state close its budget deficit. Cuomo's proposal signifies the state is in better standing.
But the $81,000 isn't all good news, Roser said. Yes, it's less money taken away from the district than past years, but some of the other higher needs districts in the area will see reductions of more than $200,000 this year, another instance Roser said is simply not fair.
"I think the formulas should be equitable," he said. "It doesn't matter if a district is high-need or low-need, it should be equitable. Let's do this equitable so this makes sense. Right now it doesn't make sense.
"Right now, I'm not going to sit here and say we have to cut this, that or the other thing. We need to see the impact this proposal will have and build our budget accordingly."
The district likely won't be able to find any help from the Lewiston-Porter United Teachers, but not because of an uncooperative relationship. Throughout the last few years, the union and the administration have worked together to secure compromises in order to keep spending in check and the tax levy at a reasonable amount, officials said.
Though Roser maintains the district is committed to not laying off any more teachers or affecting programs within its four buildings, LPUT President Kevin Jaruszewski expressed dismay at the governor's proposal because he knows there's little left for his members to do to help keep jobs in the district. He said programs are definitely on the chopping block.
"Look at our rankings," he said. "We've been doing everything possible to scrape by, to find any penny possible. But the well is dry, we can't do anymore. I'm nervous. Programs are being looked into. With that type of deficit, we're not going to be able to survive. We have made it work and Chris has done a tremendous job, but it's not going to continue.
"We thought this year would be the better year, but it's not. It just seems to get worse and worse. We're doing the same dance here again. But we're prepared, playing the same waiting game and the same shell game Gov. Cuomo likes to play. We've done everything we're supposed to, our scores are high, our (Annual Professional Performance Reviews) are done, and now he's playing even more games."With mug of Roser, Christopher Christopher Roser Looking for aid