Niagara Gazette

March 26, 2013

Lew-Port district support staff and monitors targeted for cuts in budget proposal

by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Lewiston-Porter administration is desperate.

Superintendent Christopher Roser, already anticipating a 2013-14 spending plan including a 4 percent tax levy increase – the maximum the district can ask under the state's property tax cap – announced the next stage of cuts he anticipates needing to make to find balance to the budget.

And the news isn't good for those employed as support staff and monitors this week.

"We looked at our teacher aides and looked at the ones who aren't tied into special education," Roser said. "We cut half of those aides who aren't involved in special needs."

The cuts, in addition to eliminating 10 teaching positions announced at last week's school board meeting, would bring the district's aide employment from its current 56 to 37 and would save the district $469,000 in salaries and benefits.

In addition, Roser is considering $69,000 in cuts to the monitor staff inside the school, reducing the hours of the in-school support. Responsible for guarding entryways, as well as the hallways and lunchrooms throughout the course of the day, the monitors would see only five of its 14 remain full-time with the rest reduced to lunchroom-only duty at 2.5 hours per day, Roser said.

"This has pretty much hurt everyone," Roser told the board Tuesday.

Also sitting on the district's cutting room floor appears to be the universal pre-kindergarten program, which Lew-Port had just made into a full-day program.

But doing so required a self-funded subsidy out of its own budget. The same budget Roser estimates a $1 million shortfall for next year that still needs to be balanced

Roser's current suggested plan, not finalized, would call for $39.6 million in spending. He's only projecting $38.6 million in income next year, though. The balance could come from any combination of two places, neither of which would be popular.

It's going to come from either increasing revenues, further cuts or a combination of the two. But that increased revenue would come from overturning the tax cap while cutting staff would "have a significant impact on programs and will see class sizes increase."

"I don't want to cut any further," Roser said. "These are hard times. I wouldn't recommend going any farther. If we do, whatever we take out is never going to come back. So at the point where we're at right now, there'll be modest program losses. But the next ones will be a significant part of what makes Lewiston-Porter what it is. It's the reason we're ranked No. 6.

"If we rip these things away, we'll go backwards."

This would, essentially, leave increasing taxes beyond what New York State's property tax cap would allow. To do so, the district would need to receive 60 percent approval from voters come the May 21 school budget vote. Last year, Niagara-Wheatfield attempted to override the cap and failed, requiring a second budget vote in June to avoid a contingency plan.

Niagara-Wheatfield tried to pass a 9.9 percent tax levy increase. Roser estimated about 8 percent would be needed in Lew-Port to match spending projections with all of his proposed cuts included.

With a state budget still not approved as of press time Tuesday night, talk of overriding the cap is premature, said board member Jerome Andres.

"It's pessimistic right now," he said of the budget process. "We still don't know what's going on, so it's too early to be talking about going over the tax cap."

In addition to budget talk, the board also approved a resolution which will ask voters in May to approve a $26 million capital improvement project which features a new pool at the high school and new entryways at each of the district's four schools.

The capital project, Roser said, should be taken as separate from the district's budget issues because the state funds construction projects with a different sum of money. He said he's expecting a combination of the state, the New York Power Authority's relicensing agreement and the Niagara River Greenway Commission to fully pay for the project, not the tax payers.

Big Red Number $469K Savings in salaries and benefits from cutting 10 teaching positions and 19 district aides.