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Power Authority urged to help Niagara schools

NIAGARA FALLS – The Niagara-Orleans Labor Council is pushing for the New York Power Authority to provide additional money to the three western Niagara County school districts that host NYPA facilities.

James L. Briggs, head of the local United Steelworkers union, told the Niagara Falls Board of Education on Thursday that he hopes Niagara Falls, Lewiston-Porter and Niagara Wheatfield will join the effort. He will be addressing the other two boards at their next meetings.

“There needs to be a higher level of accountability for the New York Power Authority,” Briggs said. “We think it’s time that they helped out our children.”

The labor proposal is to push for Power Authority to pay $3 million a year for the next five years to each of the three host districts: a total of $45 million in education funding.

Board member Johnny G. Destino said, “Three million dollars would equal an immediate 12 percent reduction for our taxpayers.”

Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco said the district already receives money from the Power Authority: $425,000 a year for Niagara River Greenway funding, $740,000 a year for its share of funds to be used through the Host Communities Standing Committee, and its annual payment from power sales. Earl Smeal, district energy coordinator, said last year’s income from that source was about $180,000.

Briggs said if the Power Authority paid property taxes on the assessed value of its power plant and associated installations, from which it is exempted by law, it might exceed the amount collected from other taxpayers.

Board member Anthony F. Paretto said that when the Niagara Power Project was built, “they moved a lot of homes and uprooted a lot of families, and they never paid a nickel.”

Board President Russell J. Petrozzi told Briggs, “We should probably talk it over and let you know.”

On another topic, the board was briefed on the summer’s work to prepare for the opening of classes Thursday. Darlene R. Sprague, administrator for information services, said 3,000 student laptops and 3,000 headsets were purchased during the summer. This is part of the annual renewal of technology devices. Sprague said new computers are acquired on a three-year rotation for teachers and a five-year rotation for student use.

Wireless technology was activated this summer in Niagara Falls High School and in four elementary schools: Harry F. Abate, Henry J. Kalfas, Niagara Street and Hyde Park.

By Dec. 31, wireless technology and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) labs are scheduled to be completed in all district schools.

“We think (technology) is a great equalizer for our children, most of whom come from poor backgrounds,” Bianco said.

STEM labs already exist at the high school, Abate, Hyde Park, Maple Avenue and G.J. Mann elementary schools.

“Our schools, despite our poverty and the lack of home resources, all remain in good academic standing,” Bianco said.

Deputy Superintendent Mark R. Laurrie said total enrollment for the district this year will be 7,101 students, an increase of 13 from a year ago.