By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Tonawanda City School District officials painted a bleak picture of the district’s financial future Tuesday night during a budget advisory team meeting.
“This tells us the future is not a good future,” board Vice President Demelt Shaw said. “We have to decide how soon we are going to try to alleviate this. Because if we don’t we are going to be in the same place next year.”
The advisory team and the board are evaluating three tax different levy increases for the 2013-2014 year to deal with increased state mandates and dwindling student enrollment.
“We’re not alone in what we are looking at here,” Director of Business and Financial Services Stephen Perry said. “But for us, we are treading in new ground.”
Perry, along with Superintendent James Newton, have detailed three options: tax levy increases of either 4.5 percent, 3.2 percent and 2 percent.
For a resident who lives in a home worth $90,000, option one would result in an additional $70.03 in taxes per year, option two, a $49.80 increase in taxes, and option three an additional $31.50.
Despite the tax increases, cuts would still need to be made to areas like the BOCES special education budget, legal fee funds and staff development substitute teacher allocations. All three options would also result in three full-time teaching positions being cut.
The 4.5 percent increase would correspond with $682,000 in cuts, the 3.2 percent increase, $824,000, and the 2 percent increase, $955,000 in cuts.
The only good news is that the district will receive $157,000 more from the state than originally expected — but officials and members of the community aren’t hopeful for the state helping much in years to come.
Tuesday, Perry blamed three recent years of zero percent increases for putting the district in the situation it is now in.
“We could have had a steady increase, instead of this drop off,” Perry said.
Perry also said he’s concerned about the possibility of educational insolvency — when a district is unable to provide a quality education for its students.
And to add insult to injury, a table provided by Perry Tuesday shows the district’s projected surplus balance — which, based on a 2 percent estimate of revenue increases — will become a deficit in 2015.
“Anything projected for the future, we can still change,” Perry clarified.
Opinions offered by the budget advisory team and board varied, but many were concerned about informing the public that the district’s tax levy increases still adhere to the state’s tax cap — as that law actually imposes an eight-step formula for each district, and not a 2 percent cap across the state.
Others suggested establishing a freeze on teachers’ raises, something that could only be done through negotiating with the teachers’ union.
“Teachers say they want the programs to stay,” board member Sharon Stuart said. “But they also want to keep their raises. How do you present that to the public?”
But all those involved are concerned about how how a city of fixed incomes can handle another tax increase.
“The money is just not there for a lot of people,” Karen Russell, a teacher assistant, said.Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150