Dunkirk BOE prepares for EXCEL vote, begins budget process

The Dec. 3 referendum vote for Phase IV of the Dunkirk City School District’s EXCEL Capital Project is quickly approaching, and voters are being reminded of what it is they will be deciding on.

During Thursday’s board of education meeting, Ronald Kessler of Sandberg Kessler Architecture & Engineering was on hand to go over Phase IV once again.

Phase IV will entail work at the high school and is intended to finish up exterior site work, as well as some interior renovations inside the main building. The major components of the project include an access road through Veterans Field behind the school from Van Miller Way to Marauder Drive, renovations and upgrades to various athletic fields, a new, 23-station computer lab and the relocation of the guidance office more toward the front of the school.

The project will cost about $3,802,000, with $190,000 of that being contributed from the district’s existing 2008 capital reserve fund, according to a flyer promoting the vote. The district does not anticipate any local tax impact and expects this to be the final phase of the EXCEL project.

Phase IV is expected to begin the summer of 2015. The referendum vote is set for Dec. 3 from noon to 9 p.m. in the high school auxiliary gymnasium, which will be the only polling site to save a few dollars, according to Superintendent Gary Cerne. Voters may park in the Marauder Drive lot.

“I just encourage people to come out and vote and express their opinion,” Cerne said. “I think it’s a good project. It basically completes our five-year plan and the biggest thing, to me, is that access road. For decades and decades, we’ve had confusion on Van Miller Way during baseball and softball and tennis matches, with people trying to exit the back parking lot. That’ll take that away. To me, it’s a huge safety factor and it’ll allow the police and emergency personnel to drive all the way around the building. That’s the biggest piece of it.”

For more details on what Phase IV will entail, go to and search for the Aug. 24 story “Details emerge on Dunkirk High School renovations.”

Regarding the capital project, the board also approved various change orders for Phase III, including hardware for doors and extra fill at the School 7 playground (both over $6,000) and a credit for equipment in the auditorium that was already purchased through a grant (-$25,966), as well as a second credit for $13,995.

Also during the meeting, Cerne passed out a budget calendar to all the board members.

“I’ve already scheduled meetings with the department chairs and the principals … so we’ll get those meetings rolling in December and things will follow very similarly to last year,” he said. “Again, I anticipate another challenging year, but we’ll pull it together.”

Cerne said the budget process will assume NRG Energy’s PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) Program will still be operational, at least for now, with a “‘Plan B’ in the district’s back pocket.” NRG is currently awaiting an announcement from the New York State Public Services Commission on whether it should repower its Dunkirk-based plant or close down.

“Obviously, the PILOT is huge for us. We’d have to raise taxes 42 percent to make up for the loss of revenue,” Cerne said in a past OBSERVER article. “Our exact amount is $4,062,020, which is 10 percent of revenue. How do you make up 10 percent of your revenue? It’s impossible. The only way to make it up would be to raise taxes 42 percent, or I could cut 58 teachers, neither of which is possible. We’re between a rock and a hard spot.”

A resolution was approved for a list of unpaid 2013 school taxes in the city of Dunkirk to be forwarded to the city treasurer for collection. The taxes total $537,574. A separate resolution was approved for a list of unpaid taxes in the towns of Dunkirk (totaling $104,147) and Sheridan ($15,804) to be forwarded to the Chautauqua County treasurer for collection.

The board appointed Laurie Barberich to the position of fitness room supervisor, effective Nov. 18, at an hourly wage of $15. Karin Seybold was also appointed as a temporary cleaner at School 3 at an hourly wage of $11.39.

A donation of $529 was accepted from the Class of 2013 to support athletics and student incentive activities.

The board recognized several students of the month, including Sally Chen of School 3, Katiria Martinez of School 4, Emily Pacheco of School 5, Jared Sek of School 7, Jean Pagan of the middle school and Sean Dempsey-Gregory of the high school.

The next regular meeting was moved up earlier to Dec. 4 at 6:30 p.m. in the large group instruction room of the administrative building. Cerne said the reason for the change was to roll the regular meeting and the vote canvassing all into one meeting, as well as to free board members up for the holidays.

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