Weekly Feature

2011-02-23 / Front Page

Ken-Ton schools face perfect budget storm

by KATE MOCKLER Reporter

“The Perfect Storm” was the title of the PowerPoint presentation outlining the challenges facing the Kenmore Town of Tonawanda School District.

The presentation was given Thursday at the most recent budget work session. It reviewed how a number of external and internal forces combined to require the district to reduce spending by close to $6 million next school year in order to balance the budget.

These factors include a $1.7 million decrease in state aid, a loss of $1.1 million due to the end of stimulus funding, and a $4.4 million hole in property tax revenue as the result of a restructured agreement with the NRG-Huntley Power plant. The district also faces a $1.5 million increase in health care costs, a $2.4 million hike in contractual salaries and a $2.7 million rise in retirement assessments.

While the district has funds in reserve, the board noted that not every reserve could be used to help close budget gaps. The repair and capital funds, for example, cannot be used to balance the budget.

“There are several reserves we’re not allowed to touch, not for general fund,” said Gerald Stuitje, assistant superintendent for finance. “The Board of Education has not been hoarding money.”

The district expects that the financial picture for the 2012-13 school year will be even grimmer and noted the importance of not spending all of the reserves in one year.

The Information Technology and Athletic departments also presented their budget requests during the work session. The IT Department noted that the network in the middle school is 10 years old and needs replacement. It is seeking to reduce expenses by looking at less expensive ways of purchasing laptop batteries, and it brought in some revenue by selling back older equipment.

It also noted the availability of grants for technology in classrooms and has been working with teachers to pursue them.

Athletic Department budget changes included an increase for practice ice time for the hockey team and a retrofit of some of the elementary school gyms to accommodate volleyball teams. With construction at the Kenmore East gym, the teams will lose that practice space. A list of reductions had already been submitted to the board.

The sole speaker during the public comment period was Don Benker, president of the Kenmore Teachers Association. Benker had a handout with data refuting the governor’s statement that New York was 34th in the nation in terms of education results. The handout stated that Cuomo got that number by looking at how many adults had a high school diploma in 2007, and Benker cited other, more positive statistics, such as New York being fourth in the nation at improving graduation rates.

The next meeting of the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School Board will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 8, in the Philip Sheridan Building, 3200 Elmwood Ave., north of Sheridan Drive. e-mail: kmockler@beenews.com

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