Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

November 28, 2012

Wilson talks tax cap

BY JOE OLENICK
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — WILSON — It was supposed to be a talk about two new options to deal with the financial challenge facing the Wilson Central School District. But the discussion once again brought up elementary school consolidation and the possible closing of W.H. Stevenson in Ransomville.

The Wilson Board of Education met Tuesday to talk about overriding the tax cap and reconfiguring the entire district. These options were the latest to be discussed by school officials, following a meeting last month.

Board members met in October to talk about four options for reducing costs. They included elementary school consolidation, as well as consolidating the middle and high schools, cutting extra-curriculars and eliminating non-mandated programs.

Along with Thomas Marks, Stevenson is one of two kindergarten-through-fifth-grade Wilson schools. And that’s where the conversation steered Tuesday.

Board President Timothy Kropp said the two new options were presented as a result from public input.

“We’ve received letters and calls from people suggesting we look further,” Kropp said.

Business Administrator John Montesanti presented an estimated financial outlook for the district. Before any cuts are made, the 2013-14 budget was listed at $24.5 million, about $1 million higher than the current school year’s.

If left alone, the 2013-14 budget would need an 11 percent tax levy increase. Homeowners would see an increase of up to a $300 per $100,000 of assessed land value.

If the tax cap override were to pass. Montesanti told the public that most attempts to do so failed in May, the first budget vote in New York under the tax cap law.

Under New York’s tax cap law, school districts can only raise taxes by a limited percentage that is figured out using a formula. There are certain pieces of information, such as the tax wealth ratio, the formula needs that schools won’t have from Albany until January.

To raise taxes by more, a school district’s budget must be approved by 60 percent of the voters. Otherwise it fails, even with a majority vote.

The other option was a district-wide reconfiguration. Two different versions were discussed, including one that saw Thomas Marks become a grade-five-through-eight building and Stevenson a pre-kindergarten-through-fourth-grade school.

The other version had eighth-graders moving to the high school and Stevenson becoming a grade-five- through-seventh building.

Concerns centered around classroom space and transportation. In the first version, fifth-graders would ride a high school bus and there is concern there wouldn’t be enough space at Stevenson. That is unless specials like art and music were done “off the cart,” or without a permanent room.

The second version had some transportation concerns, as well as issues with the bell schedule.

Board member George Waters said there wasn’t much of a difference between elementary school consolidation and district reconfiguration. Waters sat on the committee that looked at elementary school consolidation earlier this year.

The district did not go through with it, as per the committee’s recommendation. Many concerns about the consolidation then were still valid now, Board member Donald DeLisi said.

But the possible closing of Stevenson was brought up again by residents. Christine Hanna said Ransomville was a part of the Wilson district, but it’s own community. And one that needed its school.

“I realize this is not an easy decision,” she said. “But having a community school is why we moved there.”

Talks are still preliminary, as school officials nothing has been determined.

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