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WILLIAMSVILLE

Williamsville voters are being asked to make some philosophical as well as practical decisions when they go to the polls this year.

Approval of the $103 milion budget is more than a yes or no vote for the spending plan. It's going to be viewed as support or opposition for the direction the school district is going.

Similarily, the school board race itself, with three seats up, is being viewed as a referendum on the current school board.

Voting for the budget, and for the incumbents, will translate into support for a policy of slowing spending increases, but generally maintaining the existing Williamsville Central program and approach to educating children and operating a school district.

Voting against the budget, and for candidates supported by taxpayers groups, will be viewed as a slap to the current policy and administration. It will send a message that voters want bigger and faster changes, perhaps a restructuring of the system and some changes in the way business is done -- preferably without jeopardizing educational quality.

Tax groups are urging voters to reject the budget, and give newly-elected board members a chance to come up with a better spending plan.

School officials respond that the budget they proposed is fiscally responsible while maintaining quality education.

With the school district still smarting from an initial budget defeat last year, the Board of Education opted to keep this year's spending increase to 1.57 percent -- identical to the spending increase voters eventually approved last year.

Meeting the goal, however, required cutting spending by $1.6 million.

Threatened cuts in popular programs such as music and language never materialized. Instead, the board cut such things as equipment and supplies, then eliminated eight teachers aides and 16.7 teaching positions.

With attrition and new staffing methods, the impact of the cuts is softened. Still, two full-time permanent teachers are expected to be laid off, while two others will be dropped to part time status, and as many as 20 full and part-time non-permanent teachers, those hired on a yearly basis, are not expected to be called back, school officials said.

Class size is expected to stay the same in most grades and classes, but will increase slightly in some, such as middle and high school art, technology and home and careers classes, officials said.

Keeping the spending increase at 1.57 percent also requires a 1.9 percent increase in property taxes, having the following effect:

Amherst: a 1.88 percent increase, raising taxes by 46 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, to $25.18 per $1,000.

Cheektowaga: a 1.89 percent increase, raising taxes by 52 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, to $27.97 per $1,000.

Clarence: a 1.9 percent increase, raising taxes by 31 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, to $16.90 per $1,000.

Voters will also be asked to decide a proposition allowing the district to purchase 12 new buses, and four new vans.

Total cost of the buses would be $974,600, but the cost would be brought down to $869,000 with trade-ins. Also, about 51 percent of the costs would be reimbursed by the state.

The district would borrow money to purchase the new vans and buses. There would be no tax impact in the current budget, but the purchase would add approximately 8 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation in the 1999-2000 fiscal year, and about 4 cents per $1,000 in years 2000-01 to 2003-04.

Voters will also be asked to select three school board candidates. Seven are running.

They are: incumbents Linda M. Schott and Timothy J. Kane, and William Paluch, Jim Tricoli, Ralph J. Argen, Barry S. Eckert, and Michael J. Littman.

Kane and Mrs. Schott are endorsed by the Williamsville Teachers Association, as is Littman.

The Williamsville Alliance for Quality Education endorsed Kane and Mrs. Schott as well as Eckert.

Paluch, Argen and Eckert are endorsed by the Amherst and East Amherst taxpayers groups, as well as Concerned Citizens of WNY, also a taxpayer group.

Voting booths will be open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Casey Middle School, 105 Casey Road.

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