Niagara Gazette

March 26, 2014

LEW-PORT: District officials discuss budget plans

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Cautious optimism continues to be the theme to assembling Lewiston-Porter’s 2014-15 school district spending plan. 

As officials await updated information from New York state’s budget, they’re stuck with wishes and hopes put to them by the building-level administrators responsible for assembling education teams of teachers and support staff.

The groups were hit hard last June after an initial attempt to override the state’s property tax levy cap law failed. Teachers were laid off and those in positions to help supplement learning were also left without jobs in all four instructional buildings.

Now there’s thought, pending the state’s final budget decision, some of those decisions could be revisited. It’s just a matter of how much and which have priority.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” school board vice president Jodee Riordan said Tuesday. “If (the state budget) goes badly, we’re looking at cuts. But we’ll do what we can. What’s encouraging is we’ve gotten really good at sharing across the whole district. A few years ago, that wasn’t the case.”

Riordan served as president of the seven-member board last year when the group asked taxpayers to support a hefty levy increase in order to provide, among other things, modified athletics at the middle school level, an afterschool homework program and the salaries of a pair of teachers responsible for specific programs within the district.

These were all lost, along with about 10 other teaching positions and a slew of assistants and monitors, after the attempt’s defeat and a second proposal was passed at a lower tax increase in June.

Now, administrators have laid out what exactly is happening due to the cuts and, in some cases, the result isn’t good. For instance, the front office staff at the primary and intermediate buildings have been forced to share a part-time employee this year, which has led both principals to support returning to the previous structure.

“It’s been very challenging with all of the state requirements we have at the clerical level,” primary building leader Tamara Larson said. “We really need three in the office. We can’t get through what we need to do.”

Aside from a clerical need, there’s instructional problems that have arisen between the two schools that, in a better year, would be adjusted. Most notably is the loss of a technology teacher, which came on the heels of the district beginning preparation for the upcoming implementation of computerized state assessments. Art, music and physical education also are shared between the buildings.

The district’s middle school, under the leadership of principal Dean Ramirez, is in a similar position. With fewer resources, the school lost its librarian, which it now shares with the intermediate school. A popular program offering afterschool homework help was also discontinued with a lack of money, though Ramirez said he and assistant principal Andrew Krazmien could bring it back on the cheap if given the opportunity.

High school resource requests for next year under its principal, Paul Casseri, look to increase the building’s instruction in both science and business following last year’s decisions. Casseri said course registration will decide how much staffing the two disciplines need, but he said anywhere from a part-time to full-time person could be added.

But the tough reality administrators deal with after making their requests is the district is still facing a deficit of more than $1 million as Superintendent Christopher Roser prepares the spending plan for next year. Any increases will require a substantial state funding increase, as well as a tax levy increase, if available at all, Roser said.

“Not to be a downer but our finances are not any better off than they were last year,” Roser said. “It really depends on what the state does. There might be some opportunities available.”

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