The Buffalo News ran a story today about the various Niagara school districts and their EXCEL funds. Here's an abbreviated version with a focus on Roy Hart...
Eighteen months ago, the state allotted Niagara County’s 10 public school districts $14.3 million in special state money to help upgrade their school buildings.
By 2009, that seed money — given under the Expanding Our Children’s Education and Learning, or EXCEL program — will most likely have triggered $162.4 million in capital improvement projects, possibly more.
And the improvements will come with little or no impact on school property tax rates.
“The EXCEL aid, for the first time in history as far as I’m aware, can be used to pay the local share [of capital project costs],” said Royalton-Hartland School Superintendent Paul J. Bona. “This is a first-time golden opportunity that’s never been made available to us before.”
Bona said the state usually reimburses Roy-Hart for 88.5 percent of project costs, while district property owners are left to fund 11.5 percent of the tab. He said the EXCEL aid is changing all that for this round of capital improvements by covering the entire local share.
“You always had to have matching funds from the taxpayers [previously],“ he said.
Bona can speak to how difficult it is to fund a capital project if property taxes are part of the mix. On Nov. 15, by a 52-vote margin, Roy-Hart voters killed a proposed $15 million capital project to improve district schools that would have increased the property tax rate by 17 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation.
“So what I did was come back to the board with another proposed capital project for $8.3 million with a zero percent increase in the tax levy,” Bona said. “We’re holding a public vote on it from noon to 9 p.m. Jan. 17 in the Royalton-Hartland High School gymnasium.”
The district has scheduled a public information meeting on the proposed project at 7 p.m. Thursday in the high school auditorium on State Street in Middleport.
If the proposal passes, Bona said the district’s $510,172 EXCEL allocation assures property owners the will not have to pony up the local share.
“This project will allow us to upgrade facilities and take care of all the maintenance work the district is responsible for but has not been able to do,” he said. “You have to maintain your facilities, and this is a way of getting all that done at no extra cost to property owners.”
Bona said the new proposal will allow the district to upgrade all the science labs in the high school.
“They are all 50 years old,” he said. “We’ll upgrade the technology infrastructure in all three school buildings,” so they can handle all current and new technologies. “All three schools will get new emergency generators and we will be upgrading all the doors and windows that need to be repaired or replaced,” in addition to a lot of other work.
Four new classrooms would be added to the Royalton-Hartland Elementary School in Gasport along with a new, 10-classroom special education wing that will be operated by the Orleans- Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services.