Niagara Gazette

August 20, 2013

Raises off the table at Niagara-Wheatfield?

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — When the Niagara-Wheatfield School Board meets tonight, there's bound to be money talks.

At its Aug. 7 meeting, the seven-member group tabled a personnel vote which would have granted raises of either 2 percent or 3.7 percent to six managerial employees had it been approved.

The matter is back on the agenda, providing a tricky circumstance for board members to deal with. The raises are based on a policy, not a contract with the listed employees, and is entirely at the board's discretion.

"The main problem I have with it isn't that it's giving a raise," board President Steve Sabo said. "It's that those positions shouldn't be tied into our policy manual. They should have an employment agreement with the district, which lays out salary, vacation, what the benefits are. Instead, there isn't one."

Head bus driver Cheryl Taylor, part-time head bus driver Leslie Buczkowski and Accountant Marjorie Strobel would receive 3.7 percent increases, while Facilities Manager Delbert Ambrosia and school lunch director Domenico Barile would see 2 percent increases.

District Treasurer Ashley Wood, who resigned her position July 19 for a teaching job outside Niagara-Wheatfield, would receive a prorated increase for the time between July 1 and her final day.

Filling the treasurer position, along with the much-needed business manager opening, would be greatly assisted by the approval of the raises, Sabo said. He said attracting talent to work for the district would be easier if it demonstrates a willingness to pay.

"People don't realize this, but the same policy includes the business manager position," he said. "(Former business manager) Kerin (Dumphrey) just happened to be given a special agreement by (former Superintendent) Carl Militello, which detailed everything for him and gave him automatic raises, but the position is in that section of the policy manual."

Sabo wasn't willing to predict the outcome of the vote, seemingly due to the board's mixed reaction to the raise proposal at the previous meeting.

As it was discussed, the motion to table was met with resistance from both board vice president Rich Halleen and board member Richard Sirianni. Christopher Peters also expressed a lack of support for the pay increases, though he agreed to table the measure.

Sirianni especially led the charge against the proposed raises, citing the district's recent tax levy increases and budget conversations.

He said he'll enter tonight's meeting maintaining his position.

"I think I need to," he said. "The citizens and taxpayers who've called me cannot believe the district's taken this position. They think it's disrespectful to the taxpayers.

"We're still two months removed from talking about a half-day kindergarten. We're two months removed from talking about eliminating arts and music. We're two months removed from talking about cutting sports. We're two months removed from another tax increase. I have a good labor background, but there's times when you can't do that."

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