Tonawanda News

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February 7, 2013

Lesson learned in Niagara-Wheatfield as budget talks heat up

(Continued)

Tonawanda News — Dumphrey’s largest gripe comes from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget, which was released in January and serves as the building block to the final state budget Albany enacts. In it, school aid is increased by 4.4 percent total. Niagara-Wheatfield, meanwhile, would only see a 1.49 percent increase next year. This figure provides the district $330,000 in additional income.

This pales in comparison to the increase the district faces in contributions to both the teacher and employee retirement systems. It’s also a measly 15 percent of the possible health care cost increase the district faces should the one-year union concessions made in July aren’t renewed.

But after showcasing just how much trouble the state’s budget proposal has caused the district, Dumphrey took some time to shine a brief ray of light on the future.

“The biggest item driving up our costs is benefits,” he said. “If we can figure out a way to get everyone to cooperate again, I don’t think we’re that far off.”

Finishing the job of balancing revenues and expenditures could be difficult in a district which just endured more than 60 staffing cuts in July, part of an effort to close a massive 2012-13 budget hole of approximately $8 million. But administrators for the district’s higher level buildings asked the board not to cut from their staffs.

Both Timothy Carter, principal at the district’s high school, and Laura Palka, his counterpart at Edward Town Middle School, said cuts would do more harm to buildings already operating at high stress levels. But neither requested more bodies, only to maintain current figures.

Carter said enough is enough.

“Someone has to put their hand up and say ‘Whoa, stop,’” Carter said. Palka added her presentation sounded like a sob story but only reflected reality, which she can handle as is.

The full 2013-14 preliminary spending plan is expected to be revealed by Interim Superintendent James Knowles at the board’s next meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. March 6, in the adult learning center of the high school, 2292 Saunders Settlement Road, Lewiston.

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