By Jann Wiswall

While the State Education Department is reviewing architectural plans for major renovations at ECS, the school board is now working on making some tough decisions about how to cut nearly $1 million from the project’s current estimated costs.

The final budget for the project is fixed at $9.8 million. It was voted on and approved by the public and cannot be increased.

According to Ellicottville Central School Superintendent Mark Ward, the plan that went to the state for approval was the “Cadillac” version that included everything on the school’s wish list. Now that firmer costs have been estimated, the board must begin cutting, looking for less expensive ways to get things the same things done and making some informed decisions about what can be done at a later time.

SEI Architects and Campus Construction Management (CCM), the firms hired to design, bid and manage the project, put together a list of work and items that can be cut to help get the cost down to goal. Some of these suggestions include holding off on some roof replacement, changing lighting selections, eliminating one of two scoreboards for the gym, etc.

Ward asked the board to carefully review the list, think about “what we can live without or can do later” and get back to him with their recommendations before a Jan. 28 meeting with SEI and CCM.

Ward told the board about a program the school is sponsoring on Wednesday, Jan. 15 to address bullying issues at the school. The program for parents of seventh and eighth graders features Dr. Amanda Nickerson, director of the Jean M. Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University of Buffalo. Nickerson will speak to parents about bullying and then break them into smaller groups to do some role playing and problem solving.

Ward said that bullying has been a problem this year, especially, and that the program is designed to get parents involved in understanding “what bullying is, why it happens and what we can do about it.”

“Most kids do grow out of it,” he said, “but it’s hard to live through it and parents need to be part of the solution.”

2014-15 Budget Process

Ward told the board that he and District Treasurer Aimee Kilby have been working on the preliminary draft of the 2014-15 budget.

He explained that the state is likely to lower the property tax levy cap from 2 percent to 1.66 percent — and maybe even lower. While this could be good news for property owners, it could be bad news for schools. Lower property taxes mean fewer dollars go toward school budgets. While the state would contribute more than in the past if the school stays within the cap, it “won’t be anywhere near enough.”

Last year, voters approved a 2.3 percent increase to the ECS school budget. As was explained at the time, the increase was necessary mostly to pay for mandated increases to school retirement plans and to purchase the tools and materials required to implement new testing, assessments and the Core Curriculum.

Ward said that for the last few years “we’ve used reserve funds, reduced spending and cut staff. Now, there’s nothing left to cut, costs continue to increase and we just cannot use reserves this year. This could be the toughest budget yet.”

Sports Mergers

The board approved the merger of boys’ and girls’ track teams with Franklinville Central School’s teams effective this spring. It also approved the merger of JV and varsity football with Franklinville and the volleyball team with Cattaraugus/Little Valley for the 2014-15 school year.

The next meeting of the ECS School Board is scheduled for Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m.