Weekly Feature

2012-10-31 / Local News

Roundtable to focus on district issues

Lancaster-Depew Editor

Diane Benczkowski said she is looking forward to hearing input from the state regarding several issues facing school districts in Western New York.

On Nov. 9, Benczkowski will travel to Latham, N.Y., to participate in a roundtable discussion with the state’s education commissioner, John King Jr.

Around 20 school board members from around the state will be present to discuss topics such as state aid concerns, legislative session priorities, district consolidation and regional high schools. Benczkowski will be representing BOCES Area 1, which includes most school districts in the region.

With many school boards across the state gearing up to begin development of next year’s spending plan, the meeting was planned to give district representatives a chance to highlight some of their thoughts and opinions regarding the region’s education system.

King is expected to brief attendees on updates regarding the Annual Professional Performance Review and the Common Core mandates.

Benczkowski has served as a trustee on the Depew School Board for more than 12 years and said she is thrilled to have the opportunity to meet King and give him an idea of how the districts in the area are handling the increases in state mandates against the decreases in funding.

“The districts in Western New York are living in a totally different economic environment as opposed to in Albany and downstate,” she said. “I’m excited to have the chance to show them a different perspective if I am given the opportunity.”

State schools received an $805 million total aid increase for their 2012-13 spending plans but were faced with state aid cuts of $1.3 billion in 2011-12, $1.4 billion in 2010-11 and flat funding the year before that. Additionally, they lost $608 million in federal Education Jobs Bill funding, according to the New York State School Board Association.

Furthermore, last year was the first time school boards had to craft a plan under a tax levy cap; the state limits proposed tax levy increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. However, the cap varies — and may exceed 2 percent — for schools throughout the state because districts may exempt certain expenditures, such as a portion of pension costs, payment in lieu of taxes payments and certain capital expenditures.

Districts continue to struggle with the effects of reduced state aid and a cloudy economic forecast, and only time will tell whether voters will continue to support quality schools and the tax cap.

Benczkowski said she feels district consolidation, like the recent discussions being held in Cheektowaga, should be addressed.

“It’s a pretty big issue and has been talked about for years,” she said. We have wanted to do a study at least, I would like to hear King’s thoughts on that. I think we need to come up with a way to make it easier for schools to consolidate. It’s such a complicated process.”

She added that consolidation could be just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to easing the economic burden facing taxpayers and she is curious to hear what other school officials from across the state have to say about the issue.

“We have many small districts in our area, and we don’t have new industries coming into our neighborhoods to help with the taxes,” she said. “We rely on our residents, and they just can’t carry the burden anymore.”

email: jolenez@beenews.com

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