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City of Tonawanda School Board, budget panel discuss district’s fiscal future

The Tonawanda City School District’s budget advisory team met with the Board of Education Tuesday evening to plot out the district’s immediate fiscal future as they prepare next year’s budget.

As it was the district’s first public budget-planning meeting, there were not any specific details about next year’s spending plan or state funding projections.

However, Superintendent James Newton pointed to the district’s good independent audit report, delivered Tuesday, and a conservative approach to budgeting to keep Tonawanda on stable ground.

“That’s a positive sign,” Newton said. “It’s difficult to see what we can propose to the public right now.”

Administrators did tell board and team members about the state of Tonawanda school finances on Tuesday, pointing to the loss of $12.4 million in revenue over five years because of the state’s gap-elimination adjustment policy. The state also restricted districts’ ability to recoup lost revenue with a property tax cap.

It was reported that while Tonawanda could have raised property taxes up to 6.2 percent over that same period, bringing in a total increase of $7.9 million, district leaders cut spending and used about $1 million in fund balance savings each year to collect only an additional $554,596 from taxpayers.

District administrators, the School Board and the budget advisory team are set to meet frequently until the budget is adopted. Initially, they will meet once a month for the rest of the year, then meet twice a month for the first four months of 2015.

The board is tentatively scheduled to adopt a budget plan on April 14, 2015, with a budget hearing on May 12.

In other action, the board approved several employee hires and appointments, including two employees to overlook the district’s new fitness center. Robert Gross was hired to supervise students in the fitness room for about an hour after school at a rate of $23.65 per hour. As the center is also open to community residents, Tonawanda also hired Kristie Keller to work as fitness center supervisor from 5 to 8 p.m. in the evenings for the public.

Keller is set to make $11.62 per hour.