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A budget proposal that nobody likes was the subject of a sometimes hostile debate Tuesday night during the meeting of the Frontier Central School District Board of Education.

A crowd of more than 200 turned out at the middle school, though the audience was considerably smaller by the time the session ended more than four hours later.

Past spending -- including adding 104 jobs in five years and funding them largely by dipping into reserves -- has put the district in a financial hole, and it now plans to eliminate 27 teaching jobs and raise taxes by nearly 7 percent.

Board member Paul A. Pellicano said the former school superintendent spent money "like a drunken sailor."

Many of the more than 30 speakers appealed to the board to save the teaching jobs, especially in the music department, although only 3.4 of 25 music teaching jobs are scheduled for elimination.

Mark Chavel, president of the teachers union, said the cuts would have a "devastating" effect on children.

Parent Heidi Kellerman said that there should be more cuts among administrators, who are scheduled to receive 3.5 percent salary increases in each of the next two years.

High school senior R.J. Kozakiewicz praised the music program and said, "It's important for the younger students to have the same opportunities I had."

Larry Albert, chairman of the music department, described the cuts as "crippling."

But Richard Piechowiak, who identified himself as a taxpayer, said residents are not prepared to accept a 7 percent tax increase."

Resident Joseph Kilian said that while high taxes are providing children with a good education, they also are driving people out of the area.

The budget has not been finalized, but School Superintendent Robert S. Guiffreda said an increase in state aid is partially offset by a projected decrease in sales tax revenue, so the district can anticipate only $101,000 in "new money."

The current budget of $58.3 million is projected to increase to $60.4 million, resulting in a 6.95 percent tax increase. That would mean a property tax increase of $1.38 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, bringing the total in Hamburg to $21.28 per $1,000.

He said that more than $273,000 has been cut from the administrative budget, which now stands at $5.4 million.

Board members Janet MacGregor Plarr and Michael N. Comerford had asked for a state comptroller's audit of the district's finances.

Guiffreda said the comptroller instead has reviewed the situation and concluded that there was no wrongdoing but that the district has been draining its reserves.

The district continues to work on the budget, and teachers have until Friday to respond to a retirement incentive offer that could reduce the number of layoffs.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 3. The budget vote is May 17.


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