Niagara Gazette

March 5, 2013

Lew-Port officials project funding cuts to special education programs

by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — It was back to the grind for the Lewiston-Porter school board as the district's administration reviewed its proposed 2013-14 special education and Orleans-Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services expenditures Tuesday.

But it was the revenues associated with the special education budget which received much of the attention early in the session because of the recent news out of the nation's capital.

The controversial round of spending cuts President Barack Obama and congress failed to stop last week will eliminate between 5.9 and 8 percent of federally funded grants the district uses to pay for much of its special education programs.

But as the money disappears, the district's requirement to provide every service does not. Superintendent Christopher Roser said the district is responsible for every program. It'll just have to find a new way of paying for them.

"Over the next 10 years, the district is going to lose about ($40,000) per year," Roser told the board. "But we still have to provide the same services. So it really comes down to cost shifting. That's what you start to see when you pull funding from the mandated programs."

According to a report submitted by Director of Special Education Barbara Godshall, Lew-Port special education enrollment of students between the ages of 5 and 21 has increased every year since 2008-09, while the total district enrollment has decreased during that same time.

Currently, the district oversees 359 classified students with a districtwide enrollment of 2,212, which means about 16.2 percent are considered special needs.

Though much of the schooling for these students happens outside the district, whether through outside private institutions or BOCES services, Godshall said the district does try hard to bring some of the students back into the fold at the Creek Road campus, a move which saves the district money.

Despite the possible cost savings, she said, the district is still anticipating an approximately $1.9 million spending plan. In all, the district is expecting to spend $4.3 million as part of its BOCES budget – including the special education money – next year.

Comparatively speaking, the BOCES budgets remain fairly similar between what was adopted this year and what officials are proposing for next. Only a 3 percent increase, less than the anticipated property tax threshold, exists in the budget. 

But where did the increase come from? The majority of the extra spending is coming from a shift in one of the most popular programs at the district's high school. One administrators hate to see happening.

The Junior ROTC program is shifting full-time to the Orleans-Niagara BOCES Sanborn location next year with some changes parents aren't finding acceptable.

"I don't think parents were fully understanding what's happening here," High School Principal Paul Casseri said. "It's changing to a full-blown half-day program and it's only for juniors and seniors now. But the shift saved the district significant money. We would have lost the program completely. We wanted to keep it here, but logistically, we just couldn't make it work.

"BOCES is centrally located. No one hates to lose this more than I do. We spent a lot of time bringing it here."