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March 21, 2012

Lockport schools spending to increase less than half a percent

LOCKPORT — If Lockport City Schools were to go to a contingent budget for the 2012-13 school year, the district would have to cut an additional $777,739 from its proposed $79.3 million spending plan.

That proposed budget is what Board of Education members are expected to adopt April 4. And if it is adopted, residents will vote on that budget May 15.

Under the new property tax cap law, schools cannot raise their tax levies by more than the formula based limit. Lockport’s tax levy cap is 2.28 percent, meaning that cannot raise it by more than $777,730 from the current school year’s total.

If the proposed budget is defeated in May, the school board can either put up another budget for a June vote or go with a contingent budget. If the second budget fails, then the district has to go with a contingent budget.

So what’s different from previous school years? Well for starters, a contingent budget won’t have anything to do with the amount of the budget.

“The tax levy cannot increase, it must remain at the same level it is at for the current school year,” said Deborah Coder, assistant superintendent for finance.

The proposed 2012-13 budget is a $379,104, or .48 percent, increase in spending from the current school year. It would require $34.8 million from the tax levy, the amount of revenue coming from property taxes.

But both the spending and levy amount would drop by $777,739 if Lockport went with a contingent budget.

Last week at a school board meeting, Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley said over 70 positions have been cut in the last two years. Cuts which led to 50 layoffs. A contingent budget would force Lockport to look at non-mandated programs.

The 2012-13 budget features no layoffs but does have 15 retirements including one administrator. Seven of the retirements will not be replaced.

“I believe it’s least disruptive to our educational program and I believe it is mindful of the taxpayers and the challenges we face,” Bradley said.

Some board members agreed.

“Our overall budget, our expenses went up less than half a percent,” said Board Vice President David Nemi. “This is a bottom line budget.”

Trustee Diane Phelps wasn’t happy with raising the tax levy, given the hardships some residents face. The effect on the tax rate is unknown at this point, officials said.

“We’re strapped, we have to keep in mind the pockets of the community are not bottomless,” she said.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241.

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