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BOARD DELAYS BUDGET ACTION, PENDING FINAL STATE AID FIGURES

The Starpoint School Board has delayed adopting a budget for the coming school year in case Gov. George E. Pataki vetoes any aid allocations in the state budget before midnight tonight.

The board opted Monday to meet at 7 p.m. next Monday in the board conference room at Starpoint Middle School to take final action.

The proposed budget exceeds this year's spending package by about $1.6 million, or 4.83 percent. It calls for increasing the tax rate by 2.42 percent.

That means that, with no more changes in state aid levels, the property tax rate would rise by about 52 cents to $22.16 per $1,000 assessed valuation.

After three months of work, the board reviewed proposed budget figures and was prepared to adopt a $36.38 million budget for voters to consider in the May 17 budget vote.

When Superintendent C. Douglas Whelan asked if the board was ready to act, several members said waiting might be wise.

"The one concern I have is the governor still has the ability to veto the state budget," said Mark Domino, a board member. "It's my concern we could still end up with the governor's (original) proposal."

That would mean at least $174,000 less in state aid for Starpoint than the budget the State Legislature approved more than a week ago.

Kelly Zarcone, another board member, asked whether that mattered. "I think we've cut anything we can cut. If the governor changes his mind, I don't know what else we can cut."

Sam J. Gerci, the board's vice president, said the board has been cautious to this point. "We've spent a lot of time on this. I don't think waiting one more day is going to hurt. I'd love to (vote now and) have a day off (next Monday), but we've been on top of this all the way, and we should wait just to be sure there are no more changes (in state aid)."

Diane J. Braun, board president, said recent school boards have treated the district's fiscal state in a very conservative way and that has paid off. "So waiting . . . is just one more assurance that we'll get a more firm state aid number and know that the state budget has been passed."

Stephen J. Lunden, district director of administrative services, said the board has no control over most of the $1.6 million in budget increases because they are state-mandated or contractual obligations.

The district, for example, has to contribute an additional $305,000 to the state Teachers Retirement System and an additional $80,000 to the state Employees Retirement System for non-instructional workers, he noted.

Other increases include $104,000 for employee health benefits, $391,000 for pay raises and other contractual costs, $166,000 for textbooks and $177,000 for student transportation.

Whelan said the district added a couple of teachers on the high school level because of an increase of at least 40 students next year.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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