Tonawanda News

Local News

March 9, 2014

Tax increase, staffing/program cuts again on table for Niagara-Wheatfield

Tonawanda News — It’s become a familiar tale in Niagara-Wheatfield, where next year’s estimated expenses grossly overbear the anticipated revenues despite the possibility of a substantial increase to the district’s property tax levy.

Wednesday marked the third year — and the third superintendent — of delivering the story to the seven-member school board.

This time, though, it doesn’t appear the district can get by with massive cuts to staffing like two years ago or a slight reduction in strategic places like this past June’s proposal. Simply put, those things have already been done.

“In years past, you’ve cut deeply,” Superintendent Lynn Fusco said. “This really cuts at the core of what we do as educators. Right now, we’re looking at reorganizing the district. We can’t just keep cutting.”

The district now faces an almost insurmountable deficit between expected income and projected spending, though the assertion only takes into account preliminary state budget figures. As it stands, the district needs to make enough changes to counter a $3.7 million increase in spending from the current year’s adopted plan of $62.4 million.

This year’s increase is due to the increased cost of staffing. Contractual pay hikes and an unforeseen mandatory increase in funding the teacher retirement pension contributed $2.5 million by itself. The projected spending even includes a $24,000 reduction in central office spending.

Unless there’s major changes coming from Albany, which officials are begging for and lobbying through several channels, Niagara-Wheatfield has two ways of overcoming its obstacle. It can either raise taxes on property holders or cut spending to bring the figure down to where it meets revenue projections. Likely, the district will end up doing some of both.

How hard will it be for the district to make the cuts, though? Fusco laid out a series of non-mandated items to use only as an example. She listed bus purchases, coaching stipends, club advisors, fifth-grade band and lessons, kindergarten, a restructuring of the buildings and grounds department, chorus in grades three through five, speech, technology reductions, administrative cuts, elementary art and instrumental music instruction, all high school electives and elementary teacher cuts to push class sizes near 30 students per room and still couldn’t get a number matching the deficit the district faces heading forward.

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