Niagara Gazette

May 19, 2013

GUEST VIEW: Niagara-Wheatfield school board doing best it can

By Steve Sabo
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — In a recent reader view, a resident brought up numerous points that paint a picture of government deception, bullying and a lack of compassion to those on fixed income by the Niagara-Wheatfield Board of Education. I can without equivocation say that his views are the furthest from reality.

The first point he made is an inaccuracy about the old adage that “it is for the children.” Truth be told, it is not for the children, but the community. The growth in Wheatfield’s population can be contributed to its greatest growth factor; its high quality schools. The growth in new-built homes in the N-W school district is directly tied to the high-quality education for which people move into the district. This growth of the tax base has kept taxes very low for N-W. If the school district fails, this community will crumble.

The writer next called the school board bullies. Well if the writer would have attended more than the meeting in which the board clarified that it was not cutting kindergarten, he would have known that the previous meeting the board stated that it was a possibility, and not a sure cut. The board also did not decide this in executive session. The letter read at the beginning of the board meeting was again to clarify that it was a possibility. Imagine the even worse outrage if the board would have had to cut kindergarten without warning the public that it was a possibility. He is correct though; it still could be a possibility.

Should the board have to adopt a contingency budget, one in which the tax levy increase is 0 percent, there is no way to avoid touching kindergarten. The question is, would it be totally cut or be transitioned to half day. This is not a threat. This is reality. Let’s not forget the reason why this even has to be considered. There already has been over 100 staff members cut the past three years. With the loss of programming, the only things left are nonmandated areas at a 0 percent budget increase.

Previous boards made poor “tea party-esque” style decisions to not raise taxes slowly with the growth of costs for education. They did not follow the state’s trend to transfer the funding of education from the state aid level to that of the local taxpayers. They also did not listen to the warnings by some of our administrators and taxpayers who predicted the district could not sustain the programs if the fund balance was depleted in order to support a year after year pattern of no tax increases. Well the fund balance was depleted, the costs of educating students in New York went up, and the result of trying to make up for that lost revenue product two negative effects on the district. The large layoff of employees (many who are also residents of N-W) and two years of large tax increases to increase the revenue side of the budget.

Finally, the board has weighed in on the implications which another high tax increase in regards to those on fixed incomes. The board is not uncompassionate toward the day-to-day struggles that many of our fine residents have who have little to no disposable income or are on a fixed income. The board makes a needs analysis for the district and weighs in what must be cut and what must stay. What must stay in order for the class sizes to be manageable, that keeps programs that are dear to the community, and that allows students to get as close to a well-rounded education goes into the board’s decision to put up the tax increase which people will be voting on Tuesday.

Where blame should be focused is on the broken department of education and on Albany. Without changes made at that level, public schools are going to be insolvent in a short amount of time. Changes in funding need to start there. If the GAP elimination formula would be removed, there would not be any need to make any more cuts to the schools, no need to raise taxes, and the district could reestablish a healthy fund balance. Mr Maerten is correct in saying that the money the district receives from the state in the form of aid is still tax dollars. But I would much rather see those tax dollars come back here than be spent elsewhere are the GAP funds are. N-W’s loss of state aid through GAP elimination for the past three years: $17 million dollars. This is where the problem lies. This is why the board as to ask the public for an average of 5 percent tax increases these past two years. If former Gov. Patterson’s GAP elimination formula would never have been put in place, there would not have been no need for either of these past two years of tax increases to occur.

So before you rally the public against the decisions of the school board, I suggest you get your facts straight. The board is nothing more than a group of volunteers willing to take public ridicule who want nothing more to see the district succeed by providing a high-quality education to those that attend it.

Steve Sabo is the president of the Niagara-Wheatfield School Board.

Steve Sabo is the president of the Niagara-Wheatfield School Board.