Niagara Gazette

May 22, 2013

Lew-Port budget voted down by voters

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — A bid to pass a school budget in excess of the state-imposed tax cap failed to win support from voters in the Lewiston-Porter School District on Tuesday.

On a day when polls were busy well into the evening, the proposed 2013-14 spending plan was defeated in a 1,105-912 vote, far below the 60 percent support needed to adopt the budget in excess of the property tax cap. 

In what district Superintendent R. Christopher Roser described as the night’s “silver lining,” voters did approve a $26 million capital improvement project that will allow for upgrades to Lewiston-Porter High School and four other district buildings.

School officials used words like “stunned” and “disappointed” after the budget vote totals were announced.

“We’re going to see the quality of education decline,” Roser said. “It’s that simple.” 

The proposed $40 million spending plan called for a 5.5 percent tax levy increase. The figures exceeded New York’s tax cap, requiring it to be approved by a so-called “supermajority” of 60 percent of the district’s voters. 

The school board is expected to meet next Tuesday to discuss possible alternatives, including a potential follow-up vote on a revised spending plan proposal in June. 

At this point, Roser said the budget’s failure will result in the loss of eight teacher aide positions, the elimination of after-school support programs for students, an end to the modified sports program, the implementation of a half-day pre-kindergarten and other changes. 

In his opinion, Roser said it all adds up to one thing: fewer valuable services and recreational activities for district students.

“Education in Lew-Port is going to change,” he said. “It may be subtle this year, but it’s going to change. We’re going to have to do some pretty creative things.”

Teachers’ union president Kevin Jaruszewski agreed with Roser’s assessment and said he believes all the talk about the district attempting to exceed the state’s tax cap in the weeks leading up to the vote had an impact on the final outcome. He suggested the tax cap override detracted from the core elements of the spending plan, which represented a slight decrease in overall district spending. 

As a result, he, like Roser, said the quality of services offered to students in the district will suffer. 

“I’ve been a critic of (Gov. Andrew) Cuomo and his policies since day one and I blame this on Albany,” Jaruszewski said. “If his goal was to destroy public education, he’s doing a bang up job.” 

School board members and district officials are expected to discuss the district’s next steps during a meeting on Tuesday. Roser said there are several options available, the least likely of which appears to be another attempt to win voter approval for the same spending plan. 

More likely, Roser said, the board will offer voters a scaled-down budget with figures in keeping with the tax threshold. The district also can still opt to forego a follow-up vote and operate under a contingency budget.

“I doubt that they would want to go to contingency because contingency would mean we would be making $1.7 million in additional cuts,” Roser said. 

Roser did express gratitude to the voters for not allowing their dislike for the proposed budget to influence their vote on the the capital improvement plan, which he said will do wonders for not only the high school building, but other elements of the Lew-Port campus. 

“It will significantly be a positive for the school district,” he said. “That really is huge.”

Final tallies for the three school board candidates who ran unopposed for three board seats were as follows: Anna Wright (1,250); Betty VanDenBosch Warrick (1,187) and current board president Jodee Riordan (1,244). Warrick and Wright will replace outgoing members Jim Sperduti and Jerome Andres on the board.