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BOARD FAVORS BUDGET WITH LOWER TAX RATE

In its final budget review session Tuesday, the School Board tentatively agreed to consider approving a $19,337,400 budget for the 2005-06 school year that would reduce the property tax rate by 74 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The board is scheduled to adopt the budget during its meeting next Tuesday. District residents will vote on the proposed budget May 17.

Business Administrator Joseph Tette said the proposed budget exceeds this year's $18.5 million spending package by $828,000, or 4.47 percent. When deliberations began, the board had been looking at a $19.7 million budget for 2005-06 but managed to shave some costs while receiving a 6.5 percent increase in state aid.

But the drop in the property tax rate from $25.09 to $24.35 is deceiving, according to board member Myron Moyer. He said the assessments on properties within the district have been raised by the town this year.

This means that even with the 74-cent decrease in the tax rate, property owners could still be paying more money in school taxes for 2005-06 depending on how much their property assessments have gone up.

School Superintendent Michael Wendt said the district was able to keep most programs intact without significantly increasing the tax levy because of the increase in state aid, a $597,800 rise over the $9.8 million the district received this year.

Moyer, however, complained that spending was still up and that the situation had not really changed much.

Board Vice President Timothy F. Kropp disagreed.

"We're taking out the elementary gifted-and-talented program; we're hitting the athletic budget (including junior varsity cheerleading), the Merry-Go-Round (a theatrical enrichment program) and others," Kropp said.

"They don't sound like much, but they are cuts. There were a lot of places people wanted to add on -- $400,000 worth -- and we didn't add on."

Many cuts have been made in past years, he said, so that while building space has increased by 30 percent, the cleaning staff has been reduced and the number of teacher's aides has been slashed.

"If we cut any more, we'd drastically be cutting into programs," Kropp said. ". . . I don't think that's an alternative I want to face. You have to draw the line somewhere and say, 'Here's where you should stop.' "

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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