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Williamsville school officials are readying a preliminary budget for the 2001-02 school year that increases spending by 3.26 percent and school taxes by the same percentage or slightly higher.

The proposed $112,194,389 budget increases spending by about $3.5 million, about $2 million of it to pay for increases in wages and benefits, said Richard Hitzges, the district's assistant superintendent for business.

Another $192,000 is earmarked for putting technology assistants in the schools.

Additionally, the budget increases spending by $150,000 to buy equipment and $95,000 for work on buildings and grounds -- areas of the budget cut in recent years because of financial problems.

Ideas, a critical-thinking program, is also restored to kindergarten and first grade in the budget, though the School Board has not yet decided on that.

It is a "cost-of-living budget," Hitzges said. "We have a budget that is going to sustain our quality but takes into account the fiscal side."

But the local tax group was unimpressed.

"The taxes are already too high," said Edith McBride of the Amherst Taxpayers Association. "Their cost-of-living increase is doubling our cost of living, and this community can't afford it. If they don't start listening, people will just keep on leaving."

A public forum on the 2001-02 preliminary budget will be held from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday in the auditorium of South High School, 5950 Main St.

Adoption by the board is scheduled for April 3, Hitzges said.

Though Williamsville, like other New York schools, won't know how much aid it is getting from Albany until the state budget is finalized -- probably no sooner than May and possibly much later -- it expects to get at least $1.1 million more for the coming year, for a total of about $25.7 million.

Early estimates show the tax levy will increase by about 3.3 percent, and the tax rate between 3.26 percent and 3.5 percent, Hitzges said.

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