by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — It’s never too early to start talking money in the Niagara-Wheatfield School District.
During a recent board meeting, three departments presented their 2013-14 budget requests in an attempt to get the ball rolling figuring out how the financially challenged district will manage increasing costs – especially to retirement contributions for teachers and other staff – while staying below the state’s tax levy threshold.
Among the presentations, Business Manager Kerin Dumphrey said his administrative budget features a 28 percent cut from 2012-13 levels.
“The administrative budget is being trimmed wherever it can be trimmed,” he said. “We’ll have to factor in a slight increase to the auditors. And thanks to the concessions our unions gave us, we’ll be able to eliminate tuition reimbursements.”
Along with Transportation Director Michael Dallessandro and Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Delbert Amrbosia, Dumphrey presented requests, which the board will consider as it prepares to adopt a spending plan residents will vote on in May.
Officials are hoping the one they create this spring is less contentious than what developed into the current year’s plan, one of the toughest financial years the district has ever experienced. After being told they needed to close a multimillion-dollar deficit last fall, officials spent months developing a plan which failed to gain the necessary public support.
Former Superintendent Carl Militello retired from the district amid the trouble and Dumphrey took over to try to bring the district into the positive. However, officials eliminated more than 60 positions while still increasing its tax collection by 4.9 percent.
Among the cuts were two cleaner positions from Ambrosia’s department, which he said has been difficult to work through so far.
“We’re doing it all without overtime, we’re doing it without extra staff,” he said, presenting his $3.9 million request. “We struggle all the time to find a way to make do. But we do.”
One way he said buildings and grounds can help keep its staff at least the same despite more tough times ahead is to start charging organizations using the district’s buildings to help offset costs to clean and maintain supplies.
He said his proposal is as lean as he said he can possibly make it this year.
“The budget I’m asking for is really lacking,” he said. “There’s no fluff in what (he presented). We’ll be lucky, actually, if we’re not in the red by the end of this year. But we’ll get through. We always do.”
The transportation request is similar to previous years, Dallessandro said. The only difference is he’s recommending an increase to the budgeted amount for fuel because prices have remained higher than he expected this year.
“We’re looking ahead to next year,” he said. “There’s no reductions ... or increases in service in this budget. We’re looking to roll ahead to next year without much change.”
He’s also recommending the district resume its regular purchasing of buses to phase out about eight from its fleet.
Part of the solution to this past year’s budget solution was to delay purchasing new buses this year, which Dallessandro said could have adverse effects on district transportation.
“When you have a fleet like Niagara-Wheatfield does, we recommend rotating out a portion of the number not only because the buses get old, but because the new ones have newer technology, whether it’s brakes or other things. and they also have new warranties, which saves on labor and parts costs.”
Discussion pertaining to the district’s general fund, which contains the bulk of the district’s spending, will begin in the new year.