By Timothy Chipp email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — WHEATFIELD — It was the narrowest of margins, but the Niagara-Wheatfield School Board majority elected en masse two years ago has yet to succeed in an initial budget vote.
Voters turned down a proposed $62.8 million spending plan, complete with a 5.91 percent tax levy increase, by a 1,598-1,601 decision. If you do the math, the budget failed by three votes.
“I’m speechless,” School Board President Steve Sabo said. “It was a quiet year, there was not much said at all. Still, it was almost a 50/50 split. If there’d been four more votes yes, it would have passed by one.”
All results are unofficial until confirmed by the school board at its meeting at 7 p.m. tonight in the high school’s Adult Learning Center, 2292 Saunders Settlement Road, Lewiston.
It’s similar to last year’s outcome, which saw a May budget proposal fail as the district attempted to override the state’s property tax cap law. The original proposal was handily defeated before a June proposal adopted a 4.85 percent increase, a figure under the cap.
Tuesday’s budget figure was at the board’s cap limit, meaning it needed only a 50 percent plus one vote, why the decision’s closeness meant more.
Though unfavorable, the result leaves the board with three options. It can either propose a second vote June 18 with the same tax levy increase and hope to drum up new support from voters, follow last year’s example and slightly reduce its sought increase to acknowledge those who cast negative votes or accept its failure and continue forward with a zero levy increase.
Sabo said the zero budget would feature many of the cuts the district presented last month before adopting the proposed plan. Kindergarten, a program not mandated by the New York State Education Department, would suffer severe eliminations, as would the music, art and sports programs.
The board president confirmed the popular but expensive offerings would all suffer as the district would attempt to find an additional $1.7 million to cut, the figure addressed by the rather large levy increase proposal turned down Tuesday.
“We can try to increase class sizes, but we don’t have many places left to go because we’re stretched so thin,” he said, adding he’s considering making a motion tonight to declare exactly what items would be cut should the district be forced to adopt a zero levy increase.
Also on the ballot Tuesday was an election for two school board positions. But determining which seat is filled by which candidate required specific vote counts.
The seat currently held by Lori Pittman, one she occupied as an appointment to replace Michael Brock last year, will remain Pittman’s after she collected 1,876 votes. Challenger Amy Deull, who received 1,807 votes, succeeded in her bid as well and will gain her seat in July when current board member Kathy Fleming steps away.
Lorna Tilley-Peltier received 1,357 votes and will not join the board.
Pittman said she’s upset the budget failed, meaning more hard work is ahead of the board as it’s forced to reevaluate where it’ll spend the money it can collect.
“I’d hate to see any cuts to these programs,” she said. “We have a new superintendent coming in and I was hopeful we could start her off with some new optimism. It just goes to show every vote counts.”
A final item on the ballot Tuesday sought to approve the placement of a student representative on the school board pursuant to education law. The item passed by a 1,855-1107 count.Results Proposition One - A $62.8 million budget with a 5.91 percent increase to the tax levy Yes: 1,598 No: 1,601 Proposition Two - A student member on the school board Yes: 1,855 No: 1,107 Proposition Three - Election of two school board members Lorna Tilley-Peltier: 1,357 Lori Pittman: 1,876 Amy Deull: 1,807 Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.