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PARENTS WORRY THAT JOB CUTS COULD LEAD TO LARGE CLASS SIZES

Nine teaching positions would be cut under the latest draft of the Orchard Park School District budget, raising concerns among parents that class sizes might be too large next year.

Many expressed concern Tuesday night that some sixth-grade classes would have as many as 30 pupils. Several parents tried to press School Board President Joseph F. Bieron to explain how class sizes would be affected by the cuts.

He repeatedly skirted their questions.

"Dr. Bieron, you have to tell us how many children will be in that sixth-grade class," said Terri Shugarts, a parent.

"There's no magic number," he said.

"You're not answering us," she responded.

Bieron said the board would not adopt class-size guidelines before the budget vote -- which seemed to annoy some parents further. Administrators stepped in and sought to assure parents that classes would be kept at less than 30 students.

School Superintendent Paul J. Grekalski also said that it was best not to adopt class-size guidelines.

"As soon as you adopt numbers, we commit ourselves to just one solution," he said. "It does not have to be solved by a full-time teacher necessarily."

Teaching assistants could help fill any gap, he said, or part-time teachers could be hired.

The answers did not satisfy everyone. One mother threatened to vote against the budget in protest, even though a contingency budget would be no better.

The current budget proposal bears a 2.5 percent increase in spending. The spending increase for contingency budgets is capped at 3.24 percent.

But state law says that if voters reject a proposed budget, the contingency budget cannot be any higher than the one that had been proposed. In Orchard Park, this would mean that a contingency budget would carry an increase of 2.5 percent or less.

The board was scheduled to adopt a budget Tuesday but decided to table that until next Tuesday. Some board members said they wanted more time to review some of the numbers, particularly revenue projections.

Cuts to the budget of about $64 million that were introduced Tuesday included eliminating some positions at the high school through attrition and reorganization, including: one full-time teacher each in math, social studies, physical education, technology and science; and one part-time teacher each in art, business, English and music.

Also, a part-time custodial position would be cut in the district, along with one teacher at Windom Elementary School and a part-time physical education position at the elementary level.

The latest round of cuts also includes $177,000 in legal services, $450,600 in computer-aided instruction equipment, and $95,000 in musical instrument replacement and repairs.

Among the cuts would be 10 slots in vocational education, for a savings of $50,000; three in middle school alternative education, $30,000; and five in high school alternative education, $51,375. At the same time, the board agreed to add a public relations position, for $40,000; field trips, for $42,000; and school security, which Grekalski estimated at $10,000 to $20,000.

Grekalski estimated that the tax increase will fall between 2 percent and 3.3 percent. He will provide a tighter range next week, he said, before the board votes on the proposed budget.

e-mail: mpasciak@buffnews.com