Tonawanda News

Local News

February 9, 2011

NT school board to begin budget

— — North Tonawanda’s schools stand to see a 2.25 percent decrease in overall aid, Assistant Superintendent for finance Alan Getter told the school board Tuesday.

Few details are available on New York state’s upcoming budget, and the figure is based largely on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s preliminary budget message.

Getter said he’s aware the burden of paying for programs including special education may be shifted more heavily to local districts including North Tonawanda, as well as changes to the STAR tax exemption program for residents that he said have only been discussed in “general terms.”

About $1.6 million in federal job creation aid is apparently still available to the district, he said.

If and when state aid is cut, questions about mandate relief become pressing.

“(Cuomo) did not say anything about mandate relief,” Getter said.

As usual, until a state budget is actually passed, many questions about what funding is actually available will remain. Districts usually budget conservatively to avoid shortfalls.

“This year with the significant reductions, school districts are going to have to lower the figure of how much state aid to put into the budget, beyond what the governor’s already proposed,” he said.

The rough, preliminary estimates resulting in an anticipated reduction of 2.25 percent, however, pales when compared with an estimated 15 percent in Niagara Wheatfield’s school district, Getter pointed out, saying North Tonawanda looks so far to be the smallest anticipated decrease in Niagara County.

But, he said, that’s largely due to building assistance aid tied to the ongoing capital improvement project, meaning the real aid reduction would otherwise come in at around 13 percent.

Regarding the hefty bill for employees’ pensions and health care locally — both within the district and the city — many are worried a proposed statewide property tax cap could imperil services.

Getter acknowledged the proposal and mentioned such a cap, if passed to limit local property tax levies to 2 percent, wouldn’t take effect until 2012 or 2013.

More information on North Tonawanda’s evolving school budget tabulations will be presented at the board’s March 23 meeting.

Budget workshops will be held each Tuesday in March.

In other news, the board also accepted the resignation of Ohio Elementary School Principal Wendy Richards, effective March 23.

The vote was 5 to 2 in favor, reflecting a vague controversy that seems to revolve around Richards’ annual performance reviews with Superintendent Greg Woytila, and his mention that Richards expressed interest in furthering her education in her letter notifying him of her intention.

Resident Tom Galas said only that a “conflict of interest” apparently accompanies Richards’ decision. He has taken issue with the board’s decision while supporting Richards and pointed out the school has seen two principals in three years.

He and others have inferred she and Woytila did not see eye to eye.

Woytila said it’s not for him or board members to give an opinion on the matter.

“It was a positive conversation,” he said.

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