Tuesday looms large in six school districts in Western New York.
That’s the day they find out if they have to make more cuts to their educational programs.
“We’ve kind of run out of things to cut,” said Lewiston-Porter Superintendent Chris Roser.
Clarence is the largest district in the area conducting a re-vote, but five other districts are also asking residents to go to the polls again Tuesday.
Alden and Clarence in Erie County; Lewiston-Porter, Niagara Wheatfield and Wilson in Niagara County; and Bemus Point in Chautauqua County are among 32 budgets across New York State that failed to gain passage May 21.
This time, all the districts are staying within the tax cap. Both Clarence and Lewiston-Porter put up budgets in May with tax levies above the cap. Under New York State’s tax-cap legislation that took effect last year, districts are required to seek approval from 60 percent of voters if they want to exceed their cap. Budgets that call for increases under the tax cap need 50 percent of the vote plus one to pass.
The consequences of failing a second time would likely mean more cuts. School districts have two chances to pass a budget under the state tax-cap law before they must adopt a contingent budget, which cannot raise taxes a penny more than was collected in the previous year.
“A zero tax levy increase would be pretty devastating for most school districts,” said Dave Albert of the New York State School Boards Association.
Every district is facing dramatic increases in pension and other costs that must be paid, and many have already cut staffing.
Clarence cut nearly 25 positions in its first budget and has reduced staffing by another 29 for this budget. Lewiston-Porter reduced staff by more than 40 positions. And in the last three years, Niagara Wheatfield has cut 112 jobs positions, and Wilson has reduced staff by more than 20 people.
Many districts made changes to their defeated budgets.
Clarence reduced the tax levy from a 9.8 percent increase to 3.62 percent. It may be enough. Anti-tax proponents had a meeting of the minds with pro-school residents last week and agreed to work for passage of this budget.
Most districts also made more cuts, said Orleans-Niagara BOCES Superintendent Clark Godshall.
“The stakes are very high in terms that there’s no other place to receive revenue,” he said.
But Bemus Point and Wilson are taking different routes.
Wilson is keeping the same spending plan because an exit poll showed a significant number of people wanted to preserve programs. The revised budget proposed using more reserve funds to reduce the tax burden.
Residents in Bemus Point will be looking at the same budget that was defeated by 12 votes.
“After the budget failed, a lot of people came and apologized to the Board of Education for not voting,” said Bemus Point Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Latshaw.
Alden is in a period of transition as it approaches its budget re-vote. School District Superintendent Lynn Marie Fusco will take over the same position in Niagara Wheatfield beginning July 1. The School Board appointed Adam Stoltman as interim superintendent, and he will take over June 24.
The last budget included a 3 percent tax levy increase and a 3.56 percent spending increase.
“I think it didn’t pass the first time largely because of tax rates,” School Business Administrator Paul Karpik said. “The tax proposal was what we got the most feedback about. There were other issues as well, but that was the biggest one.”
Last year, only two districts of the nearly 700 in the state adopted a contingent budget after two defeats at the ballot box. One of them was Cheektowaga Sloan.
This year, districts that wind up in that position could be slashing to the bone, looking at kindergarten, athletics, art and music to reduce the levy.
“They only have so many things they can cut from,” Albert said.
For Lewiston-Porter, that means another $893,000 would be cut.
“We had a pretty lean budget as it was,” the superintendent said.
Contingent budgets also would mean cutting costs to bridge gaps of $1.47 million in Clarence, $1.28 million in Niagara Wheatfield and $424,000 in Bemus Point.
“I think people are aware of it. I think taxpayers are aware of it, said Godshall. “It’s in the hands of the taxpayers now.”
Aaron Mansfield contributed to this story. email: firstname.lastname@example.org