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State Aid Fuels Growth In School Budgets

School spending in Chautauqua County is continuing its inexorable climb thanks to the generosity of New York state’s government.

The total cost of school budgets that will be up for public approval Tuesday has increased from $454,560,323 in 2020-21 to $467,890,575 in 2021-22, an increase of $13,330,252 (2.93%). Tax levies proposed by school districts are set to increase from $135,745,692 to $137,036,582, an increase of $1,2290,890 (.95%) across the 19 districts in The Post-Journal’s readership area.

Enrollment is continuing to decrease across the area from 19,248 during the 2021-22 school year to a projected 19,033 in 2021-22, according to data provided by school districts to the state Education Department.

“Budgeted per-pupil expenditures are highest on Long Island ($32,969) and in the Mid-Hudson region (31,381); and lowest in Western New York ($24,078) and the Mohawk Valley ($24,353). Enrollment is projected to decline in all regions, ranging from a .6 percent reduction in the Mohawk Valley to a 2 percent drop in the North Country,” stated a report by the Empire Center for Public Policy earlier this week.

Local budget proposals include:

¯ Bemus Point — a $15,588,352 budget that increases spending by $147.988 and increases the district’s tax levy by $97,569 to $9,054,864. The tax rate is expected to increase 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The budget saves about $48,000 through retirements and elimination of two positions through attrition, in special education costs and a decrease in BOCES costs. Increases are seen in office needs and pupil transportation. Voters will also have the chance to approve propositions to purchase two new school buses and to create a Capital Improvements Reserve Fund to pay the local share of future building projects. There are four candidates for three positions on the school board: Jason Yohe, incumbent Margaret Spence, Beth Olson and incumbent Shawn Hricko.

¯ Cassadaga Valley — a $24,713,411 budget that increases spending by $769,514 to $5,456,713. The budget includes a $100,000 capital outlay project, increases spending on technology for students. Diane Ellsworth and Marcus Clark are running for two seats on the school board, and voters will also vote on a $377,526 proposition to purchase a 60-passenger school bus that will be financed, a 42-passenger school bus with a wheelchair lift to be purchased with reserve funds, a 24-passenger school bus with a wheelchair lift to be paid for with reserve funds and a 5- to 7-passenger transportation vehicle to be purchased with reserve funds.

¯ Chautauqua Lake — a $23,600,585 budget that increases spending $398,238 with a tax levy of $12,493,744, an increase of $177,356 (1.44%).

¯ Clymer — a $11,492,368 budget that increases spending $131,227 while increasing the tax levy by $93,719 to $4,787,950. Administrative spending will decrease by $190,596 while spending on programs will increase $312,480. Additions to the program include esports, girls soccer, computer science electives and counseling and student support services. District residents will also vote on a proposition to create a capital reserve fund for school vehicles. There is one school board position, with Ed Mulkearn the only candidate running.

¯ Falconer — a proposed $25,285,440 budget increases spending $2,190,741 (9.4%) but does not increase the tax levy. Most of that increase comes in costs for debt service on the district’s building project that wasn’t part of last year’s school budget.

¯ Frewsburg — a proposed $18,985,983 budget increases spending $923,139 (5.11%) though the district’s tax levy will increase $97,184 (1.71%) to $5,794,487. The budget includes a $100,000 capital outlay for new doors in the middle and high school, with the district receiving $94,600 back in the 2022-23 school year from the state. Voters will also be asked to approve the purchase of two buses at a maximum cost of $266,000 and a $7 million capital improvement project, of which $855,000 will be paid from the district’s capital reserve fund.

¯ Panama — the district proposes increasing spending by $29,379 to $12,933,775 without raising property taxes.

¯ Pine Valley — spending is projected to increase $674,406 to $16,437,677, though the proposed tax levy increases only $33,766 to $3,410,344. Additions to the budget include salary and benefits for 3- and 4-year-old universal pre-kindergarten teachers, a special education teacher, furniture and curriculum for the universal pre-kindergarten program, two school bus purchases, a transfer to the school lunch program to offset community eligibility participation and provide free breakfast and lunch to all students, start an eSports team, unified sports programs. Administrative spending decreases by 7% while the budget for student programs increases 7.28%. Rose Kruszka and Darlene Silliman are running for the school board.

¯ Randolph — the $20,477,498 budget plan increases spending $285,388 while increasing the tax levy $64,546 to $4,675,060. Taxes haven’t increased in a decade, district officials said, and a property reassessment dropped tax rates to pre-2009 levels. There are two open positions on the school board, with candidates Eric Brown and incumbent Janet Huntington on the ballot.

¯ Ripley — district officials propose a $279,000 increase in spending to $9,746,366 while not increasing the district’s $1,862,971 tax levy. District officials said $200,000 of the spending increase is part of the district’s construction project and will be paid from the capital reserve.

¯ Sherman — the $10,6388,560 budget proposal increases spending by $358,226 and increases taxes by $83,479 to $2,804,823. Spending is driven largely by contractual salary increases, and district officials note the school board cut spending by $257,220 in the 2020-21 budget when state aid was uncertain due to COVID-19. Voters will also have a proposition to purchase two 64-passenger school buses for 286,460 and a proposition to sell land on First Street, Sherman, known as the Nature Center to the village of Sherman for $1 so the village can complete a water sewage project that will divert water away from village properties.

¯ Silver Creek — the proposed budget increases spending by $205,352 to $25,928,433 while cutting taxes $209,340 to $6,223,262. The budget includes a $100,000 capital outlay to provide lighting along Webster Street to accompany a new walkway installed by the village of Silver Creek and LED lighting within the building. Voters will also vote on a proposition to purchase two large buses and one small bus, with the purchase to be paid from the Vehicle Reserve Fund. Incumbent Martha Howard is running for the lone open school board seat.

¯ Southwestern — a $31,651,060 budget proposal increases spending by $1,622,787, though that comes with a proposed tax increase of $166,907 to $13,519,457. Much of the spending increase is capital spending that is offset by additional building aid. Among the district’s initiatives for this year’s budget are additional professional development for staff, a robust summer school and after school program for 2021-22 and revising the district’s Response to Intervention plan. Voters will also vote on a proposition to spend $426,300 on three 66-passenger school buses. Incumbents Edward Brooks, James Butler and Lisa Yaggie are running for the Board of Education.

¯ Westfield — a proposed $16,956,770 budget increases spending by $428,431 while increasing the property tax levy by $69,676 to $6,175,602. The budget allows for equipment upgrades and new classroom technology, doesn’t cut any programs, student services or extracurricular activities. There are also four candidates running for the school board: Celia Molitor, Braiden McElhaney, incumbent Deanne Manzella and incumbent Phyllia Hagen.

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