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The Williamsville School District is using a federal grant to keep a program that was put on the chopping block after voters defeated the district's budget. The program, called Special Friends, was a safety net for first-graders having a hard time because of shyness, divorce, a death in the family or another problem. A staff member would use play therapy to help the children.

"It allowed us to intervene with kids who were going through some type of emotional upheaval that prevents them, when they come to school, from concentrating and learning," said Henry Peters, assistant superintendent for exceptional education and student services.

Helping pupils deal with the problem makes them less likely to need special education or fall behind in class work, Peters said.

But when voters rejected the district's $106.8 million budget in May, the program was in jeopardy. The district adopted a $105 million contingency budget with a state-mandated spending cap. To get below the cap, the district cut many programs, such as 10th grade health, Special Friends and distance learning at the high schools. The district also reduced foreign language at the middle schools.

At the same time, the board gave Superintendent Ann B. Fuqua a raise to bring her base salary to $125,871. She grossed nearly $133,000 last year.

But Williamsville restored the Special Friends program by using $30,000 of a $630,000 federal grant. The school district can use the federal money to fund programs to prevent students from needing special education or to fund special education.

"We took some of the money that we used in another way last year and used it to maintain Special Friends," Peters said.

In previous years, the $30,000 was used to send staff and students to the Monroe 2-Orleans Board of Cooperative Educational Services in Spencerport for a reading program.

"It's a prevention program to try to get first-graders who have difficulty reading some early intervention," Peters said. "Because most of our people are now trained, we don't have the same level of need we had three or four years ago."

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