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Depew school budget raises tax levy 2.97%

Limited financial aid from the state and increasing retirement and health insurance costs are forcing Depew Union Free School District leaders to dig deeper into reserve funds and to ask more of taxpayers.

The Depew School Board on Tuesday approved the $38.9 million tentative budget for 2013-14, which includes a 2.97 percent tax levy increase and a $1.1 million increase over this year’s spending plan. If the budget is approved by voters, district residents living in Cheektowaga whose homes are assessed at $100,000 would see an increase in their tax bills of $99.54, while those living in Lancaster would see a hike of $61.22.

Superintendent Jeffrey Rabey told the board that the expected state aid increase over this year is $223,650 – bringing the total to $15.9 million. About $16.6 million would be raised with the tax levy, and the district also would take $2.45 million from its reserve fund, among other revenues.

“Reserves have been drained or are being drained,” he said.

Since the 2010-11 academic year, the board has been able to trim about $4.1 million – the equivalent of 20.2 full-time positions – from its budget while maintaining academic programming, due to declining enrollment. The district reported 2,367 students in 2003 but expects 1,901 to be enrolled this fall.

Rabey said the expenditures driving the increase in spending include the New York State Retirement System and employee health insurance costs, both of which are expected to increase more than $500,000 over this year. Benefits in the 2013-14 spending plan total about $10.5 million, an increase of $1.2 million over this year.

Several reductions helped to rein in spending, including the relocation of the district office from Terrace Elementary School to the high school and the reduction of a principal at Cayuga Heights Elementary School, netting a savings of $584,748.

Rabey said the district’s allowable tax levy increase under the tax cap was 4.31 percent, due to exemptions that districts are allowed.

School Board member Diane Benczkowski said she was pleased with the final spending plan, considering the board started the discussions with a 3.71 percent increase. She added that she was happy to see administration costs go down while instructional spending increased.

The district’s plan “maintains all the educational programming for our students,” Rabey said.

The spending plan will be presented to the public during the board’s next regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. May 14 at Depew High School, 5201 Transit Road.

The budget proposal will be the first of three propositions voters will consider during the annual School Board elections and budget vote from noon to 9 p.m. May 21, at Cayuga Heights Elementary School.

The second proposition involves the district’s use of $460,851 from a reserve fund to purchase two large school buses, four 28-seat vans and a plow truck for the buildings and grounds department. The funds would be taken from a reserve fund that was established in 2009 and would not affect the 2013-14 budget.

The third proposition would authorize the district to sell the Terrace Elementary School building for no less than $700,000.

Three School Board seats, each for a three-year term, also will be on the ballot. The incumbents are Benczkowski, Nancy Fumerelle and Board President John Spencer. Those wishing to run may file petitions in the district clerk’s office at the high school by 5 p.m. Monday.