Weekly Feature



2015-04-15 / Front Page

District to restore 11 positions with additional state aid

Tax levy stays below cap
by STEVEN JAGORD
Editor

With new state aid information for school districts finally announced in Albany on March 31, the Clarence district found itself in the pleasant position of having more funds than it initially anticipated when crafting its 2015-16 budget.

(See editorial on page four)

Originally calling for a tax levy at the cap of 4.78 percent in January, administrators reduced that number to 3.9 percent in mid-March, realizing they had underestimated the amount of funding that would come in from the state. During the March meeting, the district estimated it would receive $800,000 in additional aid. When aid amounts were announced, the district was actually allocated $1.1 million.

The funds were seen as a mixed blessing because there have been two decidedly different opinions on what to do with it. Some have called for restoration of some of the 113 positions lost the past four years because of decreased state funding. Others see reducing the tax levy even further as the prudent way to spend the money.

The community was sharply divided two years ago when the district attempted to exceed its tax cap — significantly — in order to avoid a sweep of layoffs and program cuts. It was defeated soundly by a 2-to-1 margin. So with this additional funding, the question was what to do with the money: restore positions or reduce the levy?

During its final budget workshop of the year, Superintendent Geoffrey Hicks detailed that the district would stay below the cap at 3.9 percent and use additional funds to bring back 11 teaching positions spread across all six Clarence school buildings.

The positions chosen for restoration were determined by their degree of impact on students and the core programs in the district. They also were selected based on the amount of students who would be affected and the likelihood that there would not be any issues to continue funding those positions.

“We don’t want to recommend bringing back a position or a program and then cutting it in the near future,” Hicks said. “We don’t believe that any of the positions we bring back — with normal state aid -— will have to be reduced.”

A five-year projection of state funding was then detailed by Hicks to reiterate that maintaining the positions should not be an issue. The positions that will be restored if voters approve the budget are:

• A special education teacher to be shared by Clarence Center and Ledgeview elementary schools.

• An English language arts teacher and a math teacher at both Clarence high and middle schools.

• An elementary teacher at Harris Hill Elementary to reduce class sizes.

• A technology education teacher at the high school to increase elective opportunities.

• A business teacher at the high school to serve the Academy of Finance and Business, which has had to turn students away in recent years.

• A music teacher for the district.

• Two librarians, which will bring all four elementary schools up to one full-time librarian position.

The budget for 2015-16 is $75.4 million, an increase of 3.8 percent from last year. The proposed budget includes a tax rate at $15.37 per $1,000 of assessed value. The tax increase would be $114 annually for a $200,000 home.

For next year, residents will receive a rebate for increases to 2015-16 taxes because the district qualifies for the tax freeze credit. It did so by staying at or below the cap for two consecutive years and submitting a compliance efficiency plan to save 1 percent of its tax levy for three consecutive years.

Board President Mary Ellen Kloss said she supports the budget as presented because it balances the needs of the district and the taxpayers.

“We have an opportunity to cautiously and deliberately restore positions to meet the needs of our students,” Kloss said. “I believe we as a board, and with the administration, listened to people in the community who felt that the tax cap was too high.

“We also hear those people and the teachers and the students and the families and the people who no longer have children in the school district who say it is important to keep the value and integrity of the school district we have and that has been in place for everybody’s children — people who benefit from it in the value of their home — to restore positions so that we meet the needs of the students.”

The majority of the board expressed support for the proposal. Trustee Jason Lahti suggested exploring spending a portion of the additional funds on technology based learning instead of completely on personnel. Trustee Roger Showalter disagreed with restorations, concerned that state funding would not always be available to support it.

“It doesn’t make sense to add positions when in a few years we might need to let more people go,” he said.

About a dozen students and community members addressed the board, almost unanimously in support of the restoration of positions. The support included a petition signed by more than 650 people urging the board to approve the administration’s recommendation.

The board will hold a budget adoption meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, April 20, in the lecture hall at Clarence High School, 9625 Main St. The annual budget vote will take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 19, in the high school gymnasium.

email: sjagord@beenews.com

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