Niagara Gazette

April 9, 2013

Latest Lew-Port budget measures eliminate more postions, international exchange program

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — Line by line, they examined it. Lewiston-Porter's 2013-14 preliminary spending plan came under the magnifying glass Tuesday as administrators and school board members worked through possible balancing acts trying to mitigate potential devastation.

Those at the table plowed through overtime lines, afterschool club expenses and looked at converting newsletters and report cards from paper delivery to online format only. Roser was also directed to take a look at reducing substitute teacher requirements.

Things aren't looking upbeat in the rural district, despite a major infusion of expected revenues in the now-adopted 2013-14 state budget. Superintendent Christopher Roser said almost $913,000 in additional money was given to the district after the state legislature made its changes.

But it still doesn't add up to what he was proposing the district spend next school year. He still needed to wipe away 1.5 more positions, bringing the district's total loss proposed for next year to 41.

"There's no place left to go except back to the staff," he told the board. "So we are proposing cutting one science teacher (at the high school) and a half of a French teacher position."

Roser's latest proposal also eliminates all field trip transportation, eliminating the international exchange program the high school participates in and reduces on-site security at the high school.

Tuesday's revelation came as Roser told the board he would not present a budget seeking to override the tax levy threshold, which is set at 4 percent next year. He said he considered seeking a 5 percent or 5.5 percent increase in order to save some of the teaching positions which have been guided toward the cutting room floor.

But in the end, he opted to try and fix the budget crisis without the extra revenue.

The district's finances are in dire straits in large part because of New York state instituting its Gap Elimination Adjustment, which forces every school district to pay back to the state a proportion of its annual state aid, called foundation aid. It was initially envisioned by then-Gov. David Paterson after the housing market bubble implosion prior to the 2008 election.

Since its inception, the GEA has taken $6.9 million through this year, with an additional $1.9 million lost next year.

The reality of the nearly $9 million lost in the four years has left Roser needing to propose a 4 percent tax levy increase despite proposing a budget which reduces spending by more than $1.1 million.

"We thought we were going to get by without doing what we're doing now," Roser said. "We were able to work with our Lewiston-Porter United Teachers to give back. We thought we were making a dent in our loss of aid. But it was $6.9 million. All of the cuts we made, the savings we realized, weren't even close to $6.9 million. It was spinning away from us, we weren't catching up."

Line-by-line investigation of small items like postage and substitutes as a way to close a budget gap left LPUT President Kevin Jaruszewski upset Tuesday.

Jaruszewski said the district needs to simply put the ramifications of the proposed budget out to the public and let taxpayers decide what they want the school district, which was ranked sixth in Western New York in 2012, according to Buffalo Business First, to become.

He said asking district taxpayers to shoulder a 5 percent levy increase — an extra $200 per year, he said — would really help finance much of the programs without needing to nitpick the small items.

"What do you want us to become," he said. "We could avoid all this with just another point increase in the tax levy. We're not talking about 8 or 9 percent here. When it starts to hurt them personally, that's when they take notice. We need to let people know how it'll affect them. We need to come out and say 'Without this, sports and music are gone next year.'"

with mug - Roser, christopher Christopher Roser Won't exceed tax cap

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