SANBORN – Significant cuts to some popular programs are expected in order to balance the Niagara Wheatfield Central School District budget for 2013-14.
Programs such as full-day kindergarten, elementary music and arts, and interscholastic sports could all fall victim in the effort to close the $1 million budget gap, according to the discussion at Wednesday night’s School Board meeting.
Board President Steven Sabo said the job of determining which cuts would have “the least impact on the least amount of students” was handed to school administrators this year. When those recommendations are made, the board is expected to make the final decisions prior to the budget vote May 21. There are two more meetings before the vote, along with a budget public hearing May 8.
State aid is up more than $1.4 million over what the district received this year. However, with cost increases in areas such as the teachers’ and other employees’ retirement systems, along with higher health insurance premiums, even the 5.91 percent tax hike pinned to the new budget is insufficient.
For next year, the proposed budget is $63.67 million, about $3.16 million higher than what is expected to be spent this school year, according to district officials. To try to avoid the voter rejection the district suffered last year, the board decided not to increase taxes more than the state tax levy limit would permit.
The challenge now is for the board to decide which of the nonmandated programs to cut. Two areas that appear safe, based on board members’ comments, are teaching positions and Advanced Placement courses.
James Knowles, interim superintendent, told the board that students need the elective courses beyond core learning to be competitive in the academic world. He said “our biggest export is creativity” and the district needs to “have programs that make our kids creative.”
Sabo said the district would be unable to lay off any more teachers this year. Last year, the district lost 62 positions.
“This year we can’t raise class sizes anymore,” he said. As a result, the board would have to cut programs that “we didn’t touch last year.” He mentioned sports, music and kindergarten.
As the lengthy meeting proceeded, it became evident that some members of the audience failed to understand some budget and state aid basics despite repeated explanations by school officials. At the urging of some members of the public, Knowles said he would make sure current budget information is posted on the district website to help the public have correct numbers before the vote.
The board has attempted to get the word out on the budget this year by hosting several meetings at elementary schools and streaming the meetings on the Internet.