By Jann Wiswall
The ECS Board of Education, in preparation for the public vote on May 21, approved the 2013-14 school budget at its April 9 meeting. The budget, which currently totals $10,891,507, will “provide funds for all of the educationally related services and the maintenance of our school building.” While the budget expenses may change after the BOCES budget comes out on May 1, and revenue figures may change after state tax assessments take place this summer, the board is confident that the proposed budget is a fair approximation of the final.
Superintendent Mark Ward explained that the 2013-14 budget, which is currently at break-even, is tight for the coming year due to the state’s mandate requiring significant increases in teacher and employee retirement benefits. All schools across the state have had to figure these increases into their budgets. For ECS, the cost is $210,000, which represents a 37 percent increase over the current year.
Another added cost for all schools across the state are those associated with changes in the core curriculum and testing. These new programs require up-front investments in new books and other instructional materials, teacher training and technology. The district estimates that this will total some $70,000-80,000 in additional expenses.
Capital Improvement Project Progress:
Ward reported that ECS’ consultants and architects have already begun scheduling meetings with school staff to get their input on specific needs for each department. He said that the consultants will periodically present various phases of the project to the board for its approval.
Ward also noted that the construction and architect teams are actively looking for cost-saving opportunities at every stage of the process. For example, they are planning to reuse steel beams and other construction materials as much as possible. They also plan to reuse, instead of replace, the exterior light poles at the football/soccer fields and will install and redirect new light fixtures to provide adequate lighting.
Middle/High School Principal Bob Miller reported that he and Elementary Principal Connie Poulin are working on teacher observations per new state guidelines for teacher assessment. He commented that the process is more time consuming for everyone involved than he expected, although he believes it may get easier over time.
He also noted that there are many unfunded costs associated with the new state-mandated tests that students must take. These costs include significant staff time to inventory tests, provide required tools such as protractors and scientific calculators to more students, out-of-school time for teachers to score tests and the associated substitute teacher costs.
Steve Crowley, chair of the Board’s Audit Committee, reported that the committee is bringing in four firms that submitted proposals to conduct the district’s external audit for interviews. The board approved the lease of two new buses beginning with the next school year and approved a motion to adopt a bond resolution — a move that allows the bonding process to move forward. The board also approved a donation from the Ellicottville Sports Boosters of a home-run fence for the girls’ softball field.