Some Bemus Point Residents Upset With Proposed Budget

ELLERY – When Bemus Point Central School District officials asked members of the public what they wanted to see in the district’s next school budget, several answered “better opportunities in education” for students.

On Thursday, at the district’s annual budget hearing, the officials heard from a different group of residents: those who do not want to see a spending increase as a result of the better opportunities.

The 2013-14 budget, which is calculated out to be $13,119,825, reflects a spending increase of $645,175. The increase is derived from an additional $280,500 in instruction costs, $67,550 in transportation and debt service and $333,600 in employee benefits. The budget does show a decrease in general support costs in the amount of $36,475.

According to Latshaw, portions of the budget were built around responses received by the board from community residents, largely parents of enrolled students, who attended recent board meetings during the budget building process.

“We held several budget workshops, and many of the people in the room asked the board of education to please build a budget that gives students better opportunities in education in all (grade) levels,” she said. “They asked us to make sure that we keep moving toward that 21st-century learning for students-so that all students are prepared to compete in the world after they graduate – and that this budget also funds the new state mandates with our administrative savings.”

These administrative savings were gathered through the retirement of Edward Turkasz, principal of Maple Grove High School, who submitted his notice after the budget had been adopted.

According to the group of attendees, which contained former district board members and a science teacher, the board did not act in a fiscally responsible manner by building the budget around this “vocal minority.” The major points of contention centered on a 5.67 percent total tax levy increase – equating to $424,134 – and the $136,900 that is to be allocated for the purchase of computer hardware and software, as mandated by the state under its PARCC program – requiring additional technology for online testing.

“I don’t understand how (Bemus Point), out of 18 school districts in Chautauqua County, is the only one that is showing these increases every year to its school budget,” said Mike Metzger, a former board member of nine years.

“I expect you to put together a responsible budget, and I don’t expect you to spend things before they need to be spent,” he said, in reference to the money allocated for PARCC, which needs to be ready for implementation by the 2014-15 school year. “So, if you have a (administrative) savings, why go out and spend it?”

Latshaw pointed to the outdated technology that the district is faced with upgrading in order to be in compliance with a steady influx of state mandates.

“The problem with drawing up these budgets is that there are so many mandates, and we’re trying to keep up with it,” she said. “When our teachers talk to classroom teachers, like (those at) Pine Valley, most of their students go to school and every single one of them have iPads – our kids don’t have that. They have a couple of hardwired computers in a classroom, or they have a computer lab. So teachers are saying, ‘We want more for our students. The facilities are going downhill.’ Those are the cries that we heard from the people that stood here during our budget workshops.

“We believe we have built a responsible budget,” she added. “We can continue to not buy things, and eventually, we will not be able to provide an education for the students that go to school here.”

Additionally, Mucha also presented a bus purchase proposition of $205,000. The purchase amount will provide for the replacement of a 66-passenger bus and a 30-passenger bus, both of which have eclipsed the 80,000 mileage mark.

Voting for the district’s proposed budget will take place on May 21.