Tonawanda News

May 19, 2013

OUR VIEW: Local school budgets deserve passage

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — This Tuesday, voters across the state will head to the polls in fewer numbers than just about any election there is — and yet to make a decision that is arguably more important than who fills any political seat.

School budgets will go before voters to receive a thumbs up or an order to return to the drawing board to draft a more austere spending plan to govern our community’s districts in the coming year.

In each of the three districts encompassing the Tonawandas, we urge voters to give the plans a stamp of approval.

Some details:

• Ken-Ton voters have the largest tax levy increase to swallow, but given the amount that’s been cut in previous years, we don’t see any fat left to trim in what is a consistently well-run school system.

Board members are facing tough decisions and will soon address the unnecessary space it currently has by closing one or more schools. It will be a difficult and painful decision — as they have proven in the past.

The amount of money the district is asking of taxpayers is going up by 4.66 percent but it’s a worthy expenditure and voters should feel confident the increase is as small as it can be without proving disruptive to children’s education.

• In North Tonawanda, voters will cast judgment on a spending plan that came together much easier than in recent years.

For this, we are all grateful.

There are some cuts including some teaching positions but a relatively tame budget year should give voters peace of mind Lumber City schools will be able to meet challenges without as much pain as in recent years.

Taxpayers should be able to adjust to a 2.56 percent tax levy increase — about half what was allowable under the state’s property tax cap calculation for the district — without significant problems.

• The City of Tonawanda has proved the most controversial when spending matters are concerned, with a capital project, approved last year, that proved impossible to execute as originally advertised.

We hope voters don’t have buyers remorse and take it out on a school district that, like its counterparts, is in need of proper funding.

The tax levy in the city is going up 3.2 percent.

While we hope residents turn out to make their feelings known, we would be remiss without mentioning a troubling story appearing in today’s newspaper.

All three districts were forced to dip into rainy day funds to balance the books. Not any different than a household budget, savings intended as a buffer against unforeseen expenses shouldn’t be used to pay the bills.

If reserve funds continue to be used at the present rate, the districts would be in the red in about five years. 

If you’re a taxpayer irked by having to absorb yet another increase, direct your misgivings where they belong: At the state level where legislators seem incapable of reigning in their desire to force local school districts to provide more services without offering any help in paying for them.

Thankfully, all three of our districts avoided a true financial emergency this year but there lies trouble in the offing if Albany doesn’t offer mandate relief and allow schools greater flexibility to decide what expenses are essential and which can hit the cutting room floor.