In recent years, school boards throughout Niagara County have struggled to put together budgets that could win the approval of voters in their districts.
Programs were cut and in some cases districts came up with innovative ways to work together to save scarce dollars.
The reason was twofold. The state was refusing to restore education funding, known as gap elimination aid, which was held back during tough fiscal times. And, at the same time, it dictated that tax increases stay below a mandated cap.
This year, Albany opened the funding spigot, restoring gap elimination aid and increasing the money districts have to work with.
The result is that when voters go to the polls on Tuesday, they will be looking at budgets that, on balance, include only modest tax hikes. In many cases, districts have been able to bring back some of the things that were cut in other years.
Residents also will be voting to fill seats on their school boards, though in some districts the candidates are running unopposed.
Still, in many districts the budgets include interesting features.
In Lockport, voters will pass judgment on a spending plan that includes a free lunch – and breakfast – for all students.
The proposed $93.9 million budget would see the district joining the federal Community Eligibility Provision, under which the federal government will pay for lunches and breakfasts for all students in a district where at least 40 percent of students come from families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. In Lockport, the figure is 42 percent.
There also are two propositions on the ballot that would allow the district to buy real estate in the Town of Lockport.
Niagara Wheatfield is able to restore more than $400,000 worth of programs ranging from music education to modified sports to high school electives.
North Tonawanda’s budget include substantial raises for top administrators, who had given back some of their salary and gone without raises during the lean years.
Lewiston-Porter is keeping its budget well below its tax cap while increasing funding for teacher training and adding a librarian.
Royalton-Hartland is one rural district that is restoring programs. It plans to turn two part-timers into full-time staffers, restore some modified sports and reintroduce an agricultural education program under its projected $23.9 million spending plan. It continues to share Superintendent Roger Klatt with Barker schools, as well as a director of technology and football and wrestling programs.
Barker, by contrast, is seeing enrollment drop and as a result is cutting five positions through attrition and layoffs. The district has lost 173 students in the past six years, bringing current enrollment to 778. The district will cut three teachers and lose a custodian and clerk to attrition, contributing to a $317,000 decrease in its proposed $17.9 million budget.
And, in Niagara Falls, which has five candidates vying for two open School Board seats, it is the last budget for retiring Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco, who will be replaced by Deputy Superintendent Mark Laurrie on July 1.