By Jann Wiswall
ECS is hosting a region-wide “Rally to Restore GEA (Gap Elimination Adjustment) Funding Cuts” on March 10 at 7 p.m. The rally is being organized by CA-BOCES District Superintendent Lynda Quick and is sponsored by the Allegany Cattaraugus Association of School Boards and the Chautauqua County School Boards Association. The featured speaker will be Dr. Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium.
The rally will draw public attention to issues schools have been dealing with as the state has withheld funding for the past several years in order to balance its budget. Now, as the state projects a $2 billion budget surplus, school leaders are calling for restoration of this critical funding that has forced “schools to reduce programs like enrichment offerings, art, music, electives, sports and clubs, or eliminate them altogether.”
ECS Superintendent Mark Ward said during the school board meeting on Feb. 25 that representatives of schools, districts and elected officials in Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Southern Erie and Allegany counties are being invited to attend, as are students, parents, staff, other interested parties and the media.
“We want to get a crowd there,” he said.
Ward said that he and District Treasurer Aimee Kilby have been working on mid-year 2013-14 budget projections and that he is “confident” that the 2013-14 budget will finish in the positive and that it will not be necessary to use any reserve funds this year.
As the board prepares to tackle the 2014-15 budget over the next few weeks, it will be looking for potential cuts that can help offset costs that are projected to increase — including liability insurance, health insurance and other items, including the $240,000 payment on the capital project that must be made next year (state aid on the capital project will start coming in during the 2015-16 school year).
Ward said that “we’ve been running a tight ship” for many years and that “we’re spending less today than we did six years ago,” despite significant cost increases for teacher retirement, transportation and other items. In 2008, he explained, “we had 105 employees. Today we have 90, and some of those are part-time.” At the same time, “we’re getting 9 percent less state aid now than we did in 2008.”
Ward is preparing a detailed explanation of the 2014-15 budget challenges for the March issue of the school newsletter, due to be published in the next week or two. The public is scheduled to vote on a final proposed budget on May 20.
In other business, the board approved the following individuals to serve as spring 2014 sports coaches: varsity baseball, Chris Mendell; seventh, eighth and ninth grade modified baseball, Nick Smith; varsity softball, Matt Finn; junior varsity softball, Dave McCann; modified softball, Tammy Eddy; golf, Dan LaCroix; and trap, Vince Oliverio.
The first budget work session for the board, originally scheduled for next Tuesday, has been rescheduled for Thursday, March 6 at 6 p.m. in the high school library. Another work session is scheduled for March 11 at 7:30 p.m. The next regular meeting of the ECS school board will be held on Tuesday, March 18 at 7:30 p.m. All meetings are held in the high school library.