Officials outline proposed Fredonia school budget

Less than one week remains until voters head to the polls to vote on area school districts’ 2014-15 budgets, and the Fredonia Board of Education met the final major requirement prior to that vote by holding a public hearing on its proposal.

Business Administrator John Forbes on Tuesday gave a rundown of the $29,651,244 budget, which constitutes a 3.12 percent increase over the current year. Nearly $1.6 million was cut from the initial budget draft.

“These reductions included shifting $719,000 of general fund monies over to federal grants, and also cuts and other reductions to line items to the tune of $880,387,” Forbes said.

The primary reason for the overall hike in the budget, Forbes explained, is about $1.1 million (5.93 percent) in salaries and benefits increases, including the addition of universal pre-kindergarten salaries with the exit of Dunkirk from the combined program and skyrocketing costs associated with the Teachers’ Retirement System.

No staffing cuts are incurred in the proposal, though a retiring middle school teacher will not be replaced, saving the district $87,000.

“The estimated tax levy is up .87 percent, or $131,804, to $15,210,823,” Forbes said. “That percentage also happens to be our allowable tax levy limit amount.”

Based upon this proposal, and subject to changes in assessed values and/or equalization rates, estimated property tax rates include a 99-cent increase per thousand dollars of assessed value in Pomfret, 36 cents in Arkwright, 37 cents in Portland, 29 cents in Sheridan and 27 cents in Dunkirk.

Contractual expenses should decrease by about $125,000 (3.8 percent) due to utility savings associated with the nearly completed Siemens Energy project.

State aid should come in at a total of $12,667,509. That is an increase of 6.3 percent, or $748,988, over the current year.

“Even with this adjustment, we’re still funded below the 2007-08 aid rate,” Forbes remarked.

To balance the budget, $1.25 million in applied fund balance is planned for use in the proposed budget, the same amount used for this current year.

“We’ve worked very hard to try and put together a budget that addresses the programming needs of our students, along with the concerns that our taxpayers have right now with the closure of Carriage House and … multiple other concerns,” Superintendent Paul DiFonzo said. “We’ve tried to stay at the tax cap level, .87 percent, and we’ve done that. At the same time, we’ve been operating on ’08-’09 operating aid. We’ve done the best we can, with our first concern being addressing the needs of students while also being fiscally responsible.”

For the school board election, three candidates are running for two five-year seats, meaning the race is competitive this year. The three candidates are incumbent R. Thomas Hawk, newcomer Cristina Gegenschatz and former board member Daniel Ihasz.

Board member Edith Byrne is not seeking re-election.

The budget vote and school board election for Fredonia is Tuesday from 2 to 9 p.m. in the high school cafeteria. A “Meet the Candidates” night will be held by the League of Women Voters Thursday at 7 p.m. in the high school library.

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