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School board petitions state for mandate relief

The Depew Board of Education believes the new 2 percent cap on the property tax levy, without reform of unfunded and underfunded state mandates, will result in continued layoffs and reductions in programs for school districts and in some cases "outright insolvency."

The board this week adopted a resolution calling for state lawmakers to provide mandate relief. The action is similar to that taken by other boards and school board associations.

Specifically, it calls for banning future mandates while reforming the pension system; arbitration; reforming the Wicks Law and the Triborough Amendment, which covers staff step salary increases; and containing health insurance increases by mandating minimum levels of employee contributions.

Superintendent Jeffrey R. Rabey said Depew's "longtime student first and fiscally responsible approach has left us a little better off than some but not as well as a number of wealthier districts that have lost significantly less state aid per student than we have."

He said the "inequity issue" in state aid -- outlined in a Dec. 28 letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo from 15 state senators -- addresses "an existing formula based on a scale that treats the poorest districts equally with districts whose residents have twice the income."

Rabey said that last year the average cut in state aid was $937 per student. But in Depew the reduction was $1,560 per student."

He said if Depew had received the average reduction in state aid, it would have translated into $1.3 million more aid for the district.

"The additional disparity that this tax levy cap will cause across the state will accelerate the gap between the haves and have-nots and push numerous school districts into dissolution," he said.

Cuomo's proposed 4.1 percent increase in state aid for the schools will again harm districts because of the inequitable distribution, Rabey said.

For example, Depew's additional $465,573 in state, excluding building aid, and $316,722 it can add to the tax levy under the 2 percent cap totals $782,295 or an approximate increase of $375 per student. This compares with $146,172 in additional state aid and an increase of $1,335,162 in the tax levy for the similar-sized wealthier district downstate or an increase of $678 per student.

"There are only three ways to make up for lost revenue: use of reserves, reduction in staffing and eliminating programs. We will have no choice but to begin to accelerate that slow burn as we look over the next few years," Rabey said.

He said Depew's budget reductions of about $1.3 million in the past two years have included eliminating 18 staff positions and several programs. The district also has used about $5.8 million in reserve funds and fund balances.

The board will hold its first work session on the 2012-13 budget at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 7 in the Terrace Education Center, 581 Terrace Blvd.