By Bob Restaino
Each year board members for the Niagara Falls School District work diligently to present an on time budget with no increase in the tax levy. Budget preparation is among the most important tasks of the board. Critical thinking and inquiry into the educational goals of our district while remaining considerate of property taxpayers, is the balance that the board confronts in each budget season. During budget deliberations there are a few school board members who argue for a tax increase and/or cuts in certain program areas.
While on the board I have taken a leadership role with a group of board members who successfully withstood this push for higher taxes and, after several personal discussions; we were able to convince others that a no-new-taxes budget was not only fiscally responsible for the school district but the right approach for taxpayers.
I am proud that as a result of these efforts the board was able to deliver a budget which is sound in programming and fiscal management, as well as attentive to the property taxpayers of the city. Our fight to hold the line on the tax levy also resulted in the second consecutive year that city property taxpayers received refund checks from New York State as a direct result of our work on the board, to keep costs down while continuing to deliver exceptional educational opportunities for all. Through our efforts we have instituted several new programs, including our Pre-K 3 program and our specialized autism class, accomplished without any increase in the tax levy and providing unique and advanced educational opportunities for our children.
Our district was an innovator in NYS with the design of our Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) lab classrooms – partnering local industry leaders with our excellent teachers to develop a curriculum that helps our children become college and/or career ready. Early in the discussions I realized the great potential in this program and worked very hard with the administration to ensure that we “got it right”. Understanding that the cost of a college education can be crippling to many families, I also worked to continue our Early College Credit Program, in partnership with Niagara University, to assist qualifying students to achieve college credits in advance of their college years.
Of course, all this could not be done without the great effort of our school administrators, teachers and staff.
Throughout the year, under the direction of the superintendent, the administration carefully monitors the budget and provides reports to the board, so that we can remain ahead of any changes that may be required. This allows the board to view the budget as an evolving document throughout the year, in order to plan and prioritize for the coming budget deliberations. It is a system that works well and provides excellent oversight and control of the budget. I remain committed to keeping education costs reasonable and affordable for property taxpayers, while continuing to provide the dedicated teachers and staff in our school district, the tools they need to provide a “world class education” to our students.
Without the dedication, commitment and innovative thinking of our administrators, teachers and staff the accomplishments and innovations I have shared in this article would not be possible. They not only provide ideas to expand the horizons of our children, but they also “roll up their sleeves” when asked by the board to address a need in the district and provide a first class program to help our students.
As you can see, our method of managing programs and budgeting expenses includes all stakeholders: administrators, teachers, and staff and, on behalf of the community, the members of the board of education. Together, during my five years on the board, we have been able to advance our performance as educators, create new innovative programming, develop a first class educational environment and stabilize our finances … while holding the line on the property tax levy!!
I know we are not perfect, and that there is more work to be done, but over my past five years of service on the board I am proud of our innovative program development, cooperative on time budget preparation and management, holding the line on taxes and resulting in rebates on property taxes! —- It’s all in a day’s work.
On May 17th, the budget and board election, you will have the opportunity to help me continue to provide quality leadership for our city school district, the property taxpayers and, most especially, our students. I appreciate your vote.
(Robert Restaino, a Niagara Falls lawyer, is a current member of the Niagara Falls School Board and is seeking reelection on May 17.)