Although the City of Tonawanda Board of Education was scheduled to adopt a 2014-15 school year budget Tuesday night, it delayed a final vote another week, as officials debated for hours about how to best spend an extra $286,639.
While board members couldn’t agree on much Tuesday, they informally agreed to a $29.8 million budget with a tax levy increase of 2.55 percent, which would raise the average homeowner’s bill by about $30. Several board members expressed reservations about any increase this year, but a new state initiative that would refund the difference between this year’s tax bill and next year’s to qualifying homeowners helped persuade the board to increase the tax levy.
What the extra money would be spent on was the subject of the debate. Board members questioned district administrators about staffing levels for next year, particularly special education instructors for elementary grade levels. At this point, six full-time positions will be vacated at the end of the year due to retirements, and the district will only replace 4.5 positions.
John McKenna, principal of Fletcher Elementary School, argued that not replacing one special education teacher could negatively impact students. Pupil Personnel Director Amy Edgerton said the positions were eliminated because they were not mandated, but agreed it could be a difficult transition for some students.
The appeal inspired Board Vice President Jennifer Mysliwy, who said she would vote for a 2.55 percent tax levy increase if one full-time special education teaching position was restored.
“In my five years (on the board), we’ve never added a service back in,” Mysliwy said.
However, Superintendent James Newton suggested the district earmark the funds to pay for instructional equipment for students, such as Chrome Books, Hitachi projectors, musical instrument repairs and a new 3D printer. The estimated total for purchasing everything on the list is about $222,000.
And Richard Hitzges, a BOCES administrator hired by Tonawanda to organize the budget, recommended the district spend money to pay the bill for its state teacher retirement system, which is currently at $225,498.
Board member Diane Misner pushed for the district to fund the equipment purchases, and Board President Sharon Stuart agreed.
“No offense to any of our staff, but this directly benefits kids,” she said.
Stuart also wants to budget about $9,000 to help pay for the operating costs associated with the district’s new fitness center, so it would be free for the community to use.
Now with a tentative tax levy increase number in mind, district administrators will go back to their drawing boards to devise a few different spending options for the final chunk of money.
“We’re not prepared on voting for anything yet because more and more information keeps coming out,” said board member Geraldine Angelo.