Williamsville School Board members are questioning the need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on more school security in light of a budget that could raise taxes by more than 4 percent.
Superintendent Scott Martzloff told the board this week that the current state tax cap calculation would allow the district to raise taxes by $4.6 million, or 4.3 percent, without triggering a tax-cap override vote.
“It’s a higher number than it’s been in the past,” he said, “and that higher number is based on growth in the district.”
In the past, the board has attempted to limit tax increases to around 2 percent.
School Board members raised the most questions about the district’s desire to spend up to $300,000 in “security enhancements,” following the Sandy Hook school shootings. These costs would include spending $150,000 for a door monitor at each school, $25,000 for a new ID card access system for employees, $75,000 for a shared school police officer, and $50,000 for additional security cameras and other equipment.
Several board member said parents they’ve spoken to aren’t very supportive of the school monitors now stationed at every school entrance.
“I think we need to have a little more clarity on the value of having the monitors sit there,” said board member Michael Littman.
Some also expressed skepticism regarding the hiring of a school police officer, who would travel among schools and work four hours a day.
“One person for four hours a day covering 13 school buildings, I don’t know will accomplish anything,” said board member Michael Schmidt.
Martzloff defended his recommendations, saying that there are differences of opinion regarding the need for these safety measures, but the board should keep an open mind.
“I’m not looking to do “American Idol”-style voting on monitors,” he said. “I’m looking at best practice, and that’s my role as the superintendent, to advise the board as to best practice.”
He added, “At the end of the day, there’s nothing that’s going to stop a determined school shooter … If someone is that determined to do harm, they will do harm. But it’s incumbent upon us as a school district to do everything we can to protect our most precious resource, and that’s our children.”
Board President Carrie Kahn suggested that there may be less-expensive security software available to accomplish similar goals, and Vice President Ronald Shubert asked if the district might invite security firms to conduct an audit of school buildings.
In response, Martzloff said he would invite Amherst Police Chief John Askey to address the board at its next meeting on Feb. 26.
In Martzloff’s budget development presentation, he indicated that although district leaders found ways to reduce expenses, they also found new ways to potentially spend those savings.
Cost-saving measures undertaken by the district include $261,732 in savings found by a 15-member “management and efficiency” committee, which included parents. The district will also restructure BOCES services to save another $400,000.
However, these savings could be offset by restoring a social worker to the district, creating a new middle school transition program and improving school security. In addition, the district would like to reallocate some money earmarked for new desktops, laptops and printers toward a 1-to-1 middle school iPad program.
In other business, the board:
• Approved a new collective bargaining agreement with Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000 and Custodial Unit 6755, which represents 236 custodial and food-service staff.
The four-year contract would give employees average raises of 1.5 percent a year but raise their health care contribution from 2.5 percent to 10 percent over that same period. It would also eliminate salary scales and reduce sick time for all new employees.
Martzloff said the new contract may ultimately wind up being cost-neutral for the district.
• Approved the school calendar for next school year. The new calendar will begin Sept. 3 and end June 26. The full calendar is available on the district’s website, williamsvillek12.org.
• Reviewed the process for running for a board seat. Three seats are up for election in May, including those currently held by Kahn, Mohan Devgun and Peter Bergmann. Kahn and Devgun announced their intentions to run for re-election for new three-year terms. Applications and petitions are due by April 22.
• Accepted the resignation of Heim Middle School Principal Valerie Keipper. Keipper will retire at the end of this school year after 11 years with the district.