By Elizabeth Riggs
In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Ellicottville School Board approved a proposition to present voters with a 2017-2018 budget slightly above the tax cap. With a 1.7 percent increase, the proposed budget will require a 60 percent approval from district voters on Tuesday, May 16.
According to Superintendent Mark Ward, the increase to the tax cap will generate an additional $123,000 needed to support current instructional programs, staffing levels, special education programs, and employee benefits, among other things. For the past several years, the district has dipped into reserves in order to make ends meet, and this proposed increase will allow the district to break even with the revenue needed to cover budget increases.
“The board feels that in order to maintain the programs that we have and support what we are doing here, we need to go above the tax cap. We are going to be asking the voters and that will be requiring a 60 percent majority,” said Ward. “We don’t want to use reserves and that’s why we feel we have to go in this direction.”
According to Ward, Ellicottville’s tax rate and school taxes are much lower than any neighboring district, with only one Western New York district having a lower rate.
Highlights of the proposed 2017-2018 budget include allocations for: new computers due for a large incoming sixth grade class, hiring a new superintendent, new college courses, an additional elementary teacher, two new leased school buses, new cement steps and roof repairs to the elementary building, renovations to classrooms in the lower elementary in preparation to rent them to BOCES for expansion of the elementary program and a new CISCO phone system.
“I think there are a lot of exciting things that are incorporated into this budget,” said Ward.
In other business, Ward provided an update on new technology the school has implemented with funding from the Smart Schools grant.
“We got about $343,647 – the least amount given to any school district in Western New York. We’ve spent $200,000 on touch screens in the classrooms. They are magnificent,” said Ward. “We have $143,000 left and we are in the process of putting in a video surveillance system in the school.”
Ward said the new surveillance system will feature video intercoms outside the double door entrances that will allow employees in school offices to see visitors.
In other business, Middle/High School Principal Bob Miller announced that the senior class trip to Williamsburg, VA, has been cancelled due to lack of interest from students. This marks the second year in a row that a senior trip has been cancelled. Miller said despite the original plans falling through, he is hoping to still be able to coordinate a day or overnight trip with students somewhere nearby.
“We are working with the kids and looking at something close. It’s not so much the cost but it’s getting enough kids to go. I think we need to go back to the drawing board – possibly to day trips or overnight trips. There are some neat trips in Buffalo if you just go for the night,” said Miller.
Finally, the board approved the 2017-2018 school year calendar, discussed in previous board meetings.
The 186-school day calendar has a few emergency days built in for snow or inclement weather and closely follows the one BOCES has adopted.
“If you go away from this schedule you are going to conflict with BOCES and alternative education and potentially special education if you have kids attending classes in other buildings, and we do,” Ward said of the calendar during the March 28 board meeting. “It’s pretty much the Western New York calendar.”
The next ECS Board of Education meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 18 at 4:30 p.m. in the high school library.