As the Lancaster School Board continues the task of crafting the district’s 2013-14 budget, several members Monday complained about a lack of support from the region’s state representatives.
The members who attended a Saturday event for area school board members and state legislators said they came away with the impression the legislators aren’t engaged on the issues facing local school districts and are making unrealistic suggestions for how districts can cut spending or raise revenue.
This frustration came out shortly before the board’s second scheduled budget work session, as district officials prepare a fiscal plan while waiting for the state to determine how much it will spend on education.
“They have no clue what is going on,” board Vice President Marie MacKay said of legislators during Monday’s meeting in the chilly Lancaster Middle School auditorium.
The meeting came two days after the session for state senators, Assembly members and members of the Erie County Association of School Boards. The Lancaster board members who attended Saturday’s session said state representatives don’t seem to understand how carefully board members scrutinize their budgets to find ways to balance spending with their revenue.
MacKay said one member of the State Legislature urged districts to cut “luxuries,” prompting MacKay to ask whether Advanced Placement courses would be considered a luxury.
“Unfortunately, you’re dealing with people who’ve been given power but don’t know what to do with it,” said board member Brenda Christopher, recalling lobbying trips to Albany that left her unimpressed.
MacKay and board member Wendy Buchert also bristled as they recalled an idea proposed by State Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, to allow districts to sell ads on the sides of their school buses. Grisanti has introduced legislation to this effect, but MacKay said school buses are painted yellow as a safety measure for their student riders.
“We understand that budgets are tight, that is why we are working on options for school districts to curb those funding gaps,” Doug Curella, Grisanti’s chief of staff and legal counsel, said in a statement Tuesday. “If the Lancaster School District does not want to do this, they don’t have to, the legislation calls for a local option.”
Board President Kenneth Graber, attempting to strike a conciliatory tone Monday, conceded attendees at Saturday’s session received “stock answers” from the state legislators, but he said several legislators have met individually with him and other Lancaster members.
In addition to Grisanti, the representatives at Saturday’s Legislative Breakfast included Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, whose district includes Lancaster, and State Sen. Michael H. Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst.
Monday’s budget work session covered the district’s proposed spending on technology and BOCES, two relatively small portions of the budget.
Also Monday, Michael J. Vallely, the assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and pupil personnel services, presented the district’s 2011-12 school report card.
Highlights include stellar performances, when compared with the region’s other school districts, on the tests including Grade 3, 4, 5 and 6 math and Grade 6 English language arts test. Vallely also touted the growing number of students taking and scoring well on AP exams. He commended a drop from the 53 high school students who dropped out seven years ago to the three who dropped out last year.
“Three’s too many, but we’re getting better,” Vallely said.