Niagara Gazette

July 11, 2013

Re-elected president, Sabo looks to Niagara-Wheatfield's future

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — WHEATFIELD — Steve Sabo and the rest of the seven-member Niagara-Wheatfield School Board felt a third year under his leadership would best serve the district and the community as a whole.

Well, Sabo himself didn’t vote in the decision to name him president for the third consecutive year — he said he didn’t want to vote for himself — but afterward, he laid out a couple goals he has for the financially embattled school system.

“I want this district to get back to being fiscally sound,” he said. “I believe we’re close. And as we get closer, I’d also like to work with (newly sworn-in Superintendent Lynn Marie) Fusco to get the district strong educationally.

“It’s going to be a great time. We want to (take) Niagara-Wheatfield back educationally to where it was a few years ago.”

Niagara-Wheatfield has been a rotating door of top officials in recent years, which was brought on by financial instability and poor management. Former Superintendent Carl Militello retired following two consecutive audit reports showing spending errors which culminated in an almost $7 million shortfall heading into the 2012-13 school year.

After Militello departed, two interim bosses took temporary control of the situation but neither were able to stabilize the district enough to see a budget approved in a May election. Both Kerin Dumphrey, who retired from his post as district business manager, after a five-month stint as interim superintendent, in April, and James Knowles, who served as leader for the entire 2012-13 school year, were unsuccessful planning future spending without voters first telling them to make more cuts.

The result is a tax levy which has increased 4.85 percent and 4.5 percent each of the last two years, respectively. Sabo’s plans would have him and Fusco oversee a budget for next May’s district election which doesn’t fail at the polls.

With such an approach in mind, board member Richard Sirianni advised Fusco of where he thinks there could possibly be some wiggle room in the current budget for a little cost savings. He said an administrator told him the high school is operating with one too many assistant principals.

“Now that this last budget is done, we need to start undercutting the budget this year,” he said. “I think we need to investigate if we have one too many administrators in the high school. I think it would be negligent of this board if we didn’t investigate.”

Sirianni added he didn’t support cutting an administrator, only investigating the possibility. 

While Sirianni said it was a high school administrator who informed him of the oversight, Timothy Carter, principal of the high school, said the exact opposite when asked by the Niagara Gazette for comment.

He said the high school is operating below desired staff already, given the responsibilities of the high school’s leaders. He said talking to other districts with a like-sized student body, Niagara-Wheatfield’s roughly 1,250 high school students would benefit from having one additional administrator.

“There was a reduction last year of one assistant principal,” he said. “We only have two. Frankly, I’m surprised a board member would make that comment. Any administrator or anyone who’s worked at the high school would tell you we’re operating at lean capacity last year and for this school year. For a population of (1,250) kids, we’re low.”

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