Solving the riddle of selling a school budget to voters in the Cheektowaga-Sloan Union Free School District was the mission of a 90-minute special Board of Education meeting Monday evening at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School.
Board members left the school satisfied they might have figured out a solution that twice eluded the district last spring. They expect to present a $33 million spending plan that raises the tax levy 1 percent while maintaining current academic programming.
“It’s very important that we get a ‘yes’ from our voters on this budget,” said Ceil Grzybek, the board’s representative on the district’s budget and finance team.
The board provided a road map of its upcoming strategy to make the district’s budget appealing enough for voters to approve it. The board members said the district intends to:
• Appropriate $3.3 million in fund balance to significantly lessen property tax impacts on residents.
• Maintain the current level of academic programming district-wide.
• Eliminate any spending on “good to have” but “not really necessary” budget items.
• “Neutralize” the 400 to 500 annual no votes through extensive community outreach.
District Business Administrator Kevin Ziemba provided a revised 250- to 300-line item budget to board members but cautioned them to take a “big picture” approach to the budget rather than getting bogged down in “chasing the pennies.”
“I think we’ve been one of the few school districts who, year after year, have not reduced educational programs,” he said. “This is a very good budget. It is the lowest, or one of the lowest, I’ve seen so far.”
Board member Denise McCowan said she believes a voter “rebellion” contributed to rejections of two district budgets last May and June. “To you, the big things make the difference. but to the public, the little things make the difference,” she told Ziemba. “I think we need to be out there and be able to give them the answers.” Board President Gary Sieczkarek reiterated that getting the public’s support ahead of the vote is imperative.
“The community’s got to know that you’re going to get the same thing in Cheektowaga-Sloan as you are getting in Clarence or Williamsville,” he said. “They might have the money, but we’ve got to give our community the best. ... We’ve done the best we could. It’s up to the public.”
He said the budget process would continue in the coming weeks before a final version is presented to the public for approval in May.