Suburban school boards continue to pare down their budgets for the 2014-15 school year while they wait to find out whether financial aid will be increased in the New York State budget.
Districts are still grappling with the loss of state aid from several years ago. In many districts, the budget gap they started out with on their first budget draft is similar to the extra aid they would receive if the “gap elimination adjustment” were removed and aid is restored.
For the Williamsville Central School District, the gap elimination adjustment is $5.8 million; for Frontier, it is $4.3 million; and for Orchard Park, $3.7 million.
Several school boards in the area met Tuesday night to continue the difficult budget process, while Niagara Falls, which is struggling to close a $6.5 million gap in its budget, will meet Thursday night.
What follows are highlights of issues facing the districts:
Only one taxpayer spoke at the Williamsville Central budget work session.
“I have to compliment all of you for this great job,” said a man with two children going to school in the district, who asked not to be identified.
“Last year, this place was packed with people complaining. Nobody’s here. Everybody feels more confident we’re in the right place doing the right thing.”
School Board members were equally pleased with the budget outline given by Superintendent Scott G. Martzloff. The provisional plan proposes an increase of 2.61 percent in the total tax levy and about 2 percent in the property tax rate.
Martzloff introduced his budget review by noting that proposed cutbacks would be made “as far away from the classroom as possible.” The superintendent outlined $1.9 million in reductions and cost savings. Those would come primarily from lower payroll because of 15 retirements, from larger faculty and staff contributions for health insurance premiums and from reorganization of the information technology department, eliminating an assistant superintendent for technology.
The board plans to adopt a preliminary budget at its April 8 meeting and hold a public hearing on the plan May 8. The annual district vote will be held May 20 in the Williamsville North High School gym.
Frontier Central’s budget gap stands at $2.98 million, district officials said after 23 parents, students and teachers pleaded with the board to keep modified sports, art and clubs in the budget.
“We get the issue,” interim Superintendent Paul G. Hashem said. “Everyone’s passionate.”He said that if the amount of state aid and other cost-cutting measures are not enough to reduce the gap, some cuts will be made.
Reductions being considered include cutting all late nonsports bus runs, except for two days for detention at the middle school and high school. That will save about $145,000, he said.
Also under consideration are cutting some of the 66 classroom aides, examining the number of social workers to see if some can be eliminated and reducing one full-time administrator and possibly a half-time administrator position. Librarians are being looked at, as are athletics, Hashem said. There will be music, art, sports, social workers and other programs, but they may be reduced, he said.
The Orchard Park School Board got an earful about proposed painful budget cuts to its 2014-15 tentative spending plan of $88.4 million, calling for a 2.76 percent jump in spending coupled with a 4.22 percent tax levy increase.
The proposed budget cuts call for the elimination of 13.5 full-time equivalent positions, 11 of them in teaching, including at least four through retirement.
A petition was submitted with at least 400 signatures from parents and their children protesting the proposed elimination of the popular Spectrum program for the gifted and talented. Running the Spectrum program, which was restored on a smaller scale last year, costs the district about $200,000 a year. “Spectrum is a vital part of our educational programming. Please keep it,” said parent Meg Doherty.
Others, particularly the teachers union leadership, blasted the administration for what they said was not putting students’ needs first. A list of cuts – including eliminating some co-curricular clubs and making library service cuts to elementary school children, reducing the summer reading program and cutting computer instruction for sixth-graders – also is being considered, along with many others at the middle and high school levels.
Board member Rachel J. Baksa said she wanted as many programs restored as possible. She also disagreed with board President Natalie A. Schaffer, who wants the tax levy increase lower than the projected 4.22 percent. “I don’t think 4.22 percent is too much of a burden on many people,” Baksa said.
Superintendent Matthew P. McGarrity said the district is trying to maintain its smaller class sizes.
Cuts to personnel and other expenses will be on the table when the Niagara Falls School Board meets Thursday, since the district will not be allowed to increase the overall tax levy because of restrictions in the state’s tax cap.
School Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco is expected to present four scenarios for dealing with a difficult financial situation to the School Board when it meets at 7 p.m. in the district’s administration building, 630 66th St.
Bianco has proposed using $2 million from the district’s savings to bridge part of the gap, but that still leaves about $4.5 million to be made up.
Because personnel costs make up the largest portion of the district’s expenses, Bianco said some cuts to staff are likely.
In recent years, staff cuts were achieved mostly through attrition. While the most savings come when positions are not replaced, “we can’t do that in all circumstances,” Bianco said.
Increases to salaries and health insurance costs boosted expenditures the most.
At a meeting scheduled for April 1, Bianco will recommend to the School Board one of the four budget scenarios as a course of action.
Bianco’s administration projects spending levels for 2014-15 at $129.7 million, up from $124 million in the current budget year.
Thursday, a board review session will precede the regular board meeting at 5:30 p.m.
“I absolutely think the public should be worried” about what changes the budget may bring, Bianco said.
News Staff Reporters Dale Anderson, Barbara O’Brien, Karen Robinson and Aaron Besecker contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org