By Elizabeth Riggs

Finalizing the 2017-2018 draft school calendar and school budget were the main topics of conversation at the Ellicottville Central School Board Meeting on Tuesday, March 28.

The main change to the 2017-2018 school calendar is an increase to 186 school days, versus the 185-day calendar that ECS has been using for the past few years.

“That gives you a couple of days in case you have snow or emergency weather,” said Superintendent Mark Ward. “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 the proposed calendar closely follows the one the BOCES has adopted, and is also in line with the rest of the region.

“It’s pretty much the Western New York calendar,” he said.

Tuesday’s conversation also centered around the draft budget, which has been proposed at just over $12 million—a 3.5 percent increase from the 2016-2017 school budget. The main topic of conversation among the board lies in the options for the tax cap, which could mean increases for taxpayers, which they will vote on at the April 4 meeting.

“It requires not a simple majority vote to pass the budget, but a super majority vote which is 60 percent [of the Board],” Ward said.

“We are proposing to decrease the appropriated fund balance from $550,000 to $450,000 and that is substantiated by the budget expenditures which are up 3.5 percent,” said Treasurer Aimee Kilby.

According to Kilby, there are a variety of items contributing to increased expenditures, including: computers for all children in sixth grade, contractual raises for teacher salaries, substitute teacher wages, musical instrument purchases, Home Economics supplies, coaching salaries, and small equipment purchases, such as security cameras, among several others.

Kilby also reported on several budget decreases, which were allocated to: teacher and superintendent retirements, a recent switch in telephone system service providers and the recent transfer of health insurance providers from NY44 to Blue Cross Blue Shield, as NY44 anticipates a 10-15 percent increase in premium rates. Kilby mentioned that the district’s lack of recent unemployment and worker’s compensation cases will also help with savings.

In an effort to raise awareness about Ellicottville’s unique budget funding, Ward shared that he recently reached out to local congress members with comparisons of the district’s tax rate to others in nearby areas.

“I did send out a couple of letters to our local Assemblyman Joseph Giglio and Senator Cathy Young, more or less explaining Ellicottville’s unique situation, our funding, or the lack of it, and how all of this is closing in on all sides of us as we try to develop budgets and sustain district programs,” said Ward.

He added that, “In the past 7 or 8 years, we’ve used millions of dollars in reserves for a variety of reasons. We lost nearly $6 million dollars in funding from the state government in that period of time. The way our budget is being funded, or the lack of it, is putting us in a real pickle. We can’t continue to live off the reserves.”

“If you have a house in our school district (that is assessed at) for $100,000, you pay $846 in school taxes. In Springville, for example, you pay $1,905 for the same house assessment. Or, in Olean, $2,435,” Ward said. “My point to these guys was trying to educate them on how difficult it is here and our tax rates are extremely low.”

Ward is further explaining the ECS budget in the April edition of the school newsletter, in Part 4 of his series on the budget and school taxes.

“This one will feature some information about taxes and also there will be an explanation about STAR,” Ward said. “The final article will have more about the tax cap and explain how that works and understanding if the district decides to go in that direction.”

In other news during Tuesday’s meeting, Middle/High School Principal Bob Miller noted that senior members of the Quiz Bowl team have lobbied to compete as a team this spring in Washington, D.C. and are also working to make the Quiz Bowl team recognized as an extracurricular club at the school.

“They presented their case well. They are great kids and they do represent us well. They did a nice job of coming in and talking to us about it,” said Miller. “One of the chief reasons we are here is academics and it’s nice to promote these kids.”

This week also wrapped up ELA state testing for ECS, which went well, according to Elementary Principal Connie Poulin.

“It went very smoothly. They were fair but challenging. The students were well prepared—I think they felt confident,” said Poulin.

The next ECS Board of Education Meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 4 at 7 p.m. in the high school library.