By Kathleen Kellogg

“Tight” is how Ellicottville Central School District Superintendent Robert Miller described the 2018-19 spending proposition to about 15 residents, school staff and board candidates attending the Tuesday night hearing on the budget.

The $12.75 million budget proposal contains a 3.51 percent increase in spending, while the $7.4 million real property tax levy is a 3.34 percent increase over the 2017-18 levy. Ballots will be cast Tuesday on the budget proposition, a $36,000 bus lease proposition and a $31,164 proposition for the library tax levy. Polls will be open at the school from 1 to 8 p.m. May 15. Voters will choose two Board of Education candidates from a slate of five seeking to fill two five-year terms.

Miller said the numbers sound like a lot, but Ellicottville’s proposed appropriations are $6 million lower than an adjacent school district with about the same number of students, while staying within the 2 percent tax cap. The district spends $10,841 per student in the general education category, compared to $11,230 in similar districts and $12,615 statewide (excluding special education).

In addition, teacher retirements, increases in the minimum wage rate and health care costs, and “many unexpected and mandated increases in instructional cost” can be expected, Miller said.

“It’s something to be proud of, we keep taxes down and beat the state average,” Miller said.

Leading up to budget preparation several steps were taken to trim costs, such as using state bids for supplies, but no programs were eliminated. Some revenues will be returned to the district as a 36 percent reimbursement rate in a sharing agreement with BOCES, bus leases were extended another year and supplies were scaled back. Some additional salary savings will be realized in staffing adjustments.

School officials reported the overall property values in the district have risen almost $60 million in two years to more than $889.4 million, improving the tax base and the financial picture in a community where most students aren’t eligible for free or reduced lunch and the tax levy is needed to make up more of the budget.

Miller said he would prefer aid based on academic achievement instead of free lunches, and would also like to find a way to start a Community Schools program of the type offered as an after school resource in high risk communities. In the meantime, the District will maintain its electronic infrastructure in an Installment Plan Agreement (IPA) with Cattaraugus/Allegany BOCES and a Community Schools program.

“This is now crucial with our electronic platform,” said Miller, referring to a networked system linking teachers and students.

He said 105 computers will be purchased including 50 laptops for teachers to replace those provided in 2012, and 45 replacement laptops and cases for grades 6-12, and 10 desktops for office workers.

Also, Miller said, the budget contains provisions for software updates and maintenance of 60 new “awesome” security cameras that have been installed throughout the building.

About $20,000 for technology items and support staff, together with almost $30,000 in BOCES expenditures are earmarked for computers, related items and software, according to the District newsletter outlining the budget proposal. Another $121,622 will be spent  on Instruction, for teachers and support staff, equipment and supplies for instruction

There are some increased revenue projections, such as a 4.12 percent hike in federal, state and local funding aid of $4.8 million and an extra $30,000 in federal Medicaid reimbursements is expected, as well as an increase of $94,000 in the categories of Transportation, Foundation and BOCES/Special Services aid, and a $100,000 refund of prior year BOCES expenditures. A contribution of $450,000 from the fund balance is also planned.

However, these gains will be offset by the retirement of roughly $20,000 in Cattaraugus industrial Development Agency tax abatement-related payments as the Wingate by Wyndham returns to full taxable status.

Officials say they hope to maintain the true value tax rate around the 2017-2018 rate of $8.46 per $1,000.

“I hope the budget passes and I think we’ll have a great voter turnout. I’m very appreciative of the Board and the community and I know we’re running a highly academic campus,” Miller said.

ON ANOTHER topic during the public hearing, several questioned the board about factual errors contained in an anonymous letter that was sent to residents more than a month ago, complaining about the 190 out-of-district students who are enrolled in the school. Miller said the number is an unusually high one but the students are enrolled properly and contribute to the district’s income.

The five candidates vying for two seats on the Board of Education introduced themselves and spoke for a few minutes. Erin Cornelius, mother of two, moved to Ellicottville with her husband, Sean, in 2010 from her native Florida. She is a practicing licensed psychologist in Orchard Park, while serving as an Ellicottville Memorial Library trustee.

Ellen Fenton has been a Great Valley resident since 1984 with her husband, Tom, and three children, who are all ECS graduates. Her grandchildren are preparing to enter pre-K. With her family, she owns Ellen Fenton & Company, LLC, an insurance agency.

Debra Golley, a special education supervisor with Cattaraugus Allegany BOCES, is a former educator and the mother of three ECS graduates, with a fourth to graduate in June. She has volunteered for Little League, Fire Department Explorers, and is an avid photographer.

Incumbent board member Bill Murphy is a lifelong Ellicottville resident, skier and golfer, and is the father of three ECS graduates. He hopes to continue his service with the Board of Education to create a stable board presence and  have a positive impact on the student culture of high expectations. 

Clayton Silvernail, a Western New York native and father of two ECS students,  who spent some years in Houston, Texas as an urban planner and public relations consultant,  now resides in Great Valley and has a solo law practice in the village of Ellicottville. He’s been active in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and various ECS programs, such as Odyssey of the Mind and the Strategic Planning Committee.