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The president of the Lockport School Board Wednesday denied allegations by two trustees that the board acted irregularly when it adopted the 2001-2002 school budget at a special board meeting on Feb. 5.

Board President Charles Sobieraski said the board acted responsibly and called accusations by trustees Renee A. Knight and David E. Blackley "totally without merit."

"Each step of the budget planning and development process followed the guidelines established in school law, in board policy and in the National School Board Association's guidelines," Sobieraski said in a prepared statement issued through the school district's public information coordinator.

At a news conference Tuesday night, both Knight and Blackley said they had no knowledge prior to the Feb. 5 meeting that Superintendent Christine A. Neal's entire budget proposal would be on the agenda. Instead, they said, they expected the only agenda item that evening was to be a vote on Neal's recommended plan that called for cuts at the district's elementary schools and conversion of Charlotte Cross Elementary School into an early childhood center.

Though they voted no on the budget, both Knight and Blackley charged they were forced to make a decision on the $60.3 million spending plan without a full disclosure of how the funds were to be allocated and spent. Both they and the public were shut out of an opportunity for input on the budget, the two dissenting trustees alleged.

Blackley questioned the timing of the budget adoption, adding that it was highly unusual for the board to adopt a spending plan a full three months before school district residents were scheduled to vote on it. The school district budget vote is scheduled for May 15. Last year the board adopted the superintendent's 2000-01 budget proposal on April 3.

But Sobieraski Wednesday insisted there was nothing in the state law or the district's guidelines that prevented the board from adopting a budget well in advance of May 15. He said the board began working on the budget in August and has had numerous public meetings at which details of the budget were discussed. The early budget adoption, Sobieraski said, was a result of "the unusual circumstances of converting Charlotte Cross."

"By adopting the budget early, the board and administration could focus their energies on the Charlotte Cross transition plan," he said.

Still, Knight and Blackley Tuesday questioned whether the Feb. 5 vote on the Charlotte Cross plan was just a decoy for pushing Neal's budget through.

The Charlotte Cross plan "revealed a little bit of information and that was the only budget information we had an opportunity to lay our eyes on," Knight said.

She also questioned why the board strayed so wildly from the district's budget development schedule that was released in November. That plan called for a complete preliminary draft of the tentative budget by February, presentations of it to the public in March and adoption of a proposed budget in April.

Trustee John Van Benschoten, reached Tuesday night, said the entire board set the parameters for development of the budget several months ago and that the budget development schedule was only a guide.

"It's a planning document that lists deadlines, but it's by no means a strict schedule for planning the budget," Van Benschoten said.

Meanwhile, Blackley and Knight said they plan to introduce a resolution calling on the board to rescind its adoption of the budget when the board meets again Tuesday.

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