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BOARD OKS BUDGET, SMALL TAX RATE HIKE

The Grand Island School Board on Monday adopted a $43.2 million budget for 2005-06 that calls for a 2.8 percent tax rate hike.

For homeowners, the budget, if approved, carries a projected tax rate of $36.64 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, up $1 from this year.

The total proposed budget is about $2.5 million higher than the current budget, for a spending increase of 6.27 percent.

"We originally promised the voters a budget with no more than a 4.9 percent tax increase," said Board President David Goris of the process that began in December. "However, after listening to strong concerns from our residents about higher taxes, we felt we had to get it lower."

To reach the goal of a tax rate hike below 5 percent, district officials applied nearly $500,000 in additional promised state aid as revenue for 2005-06, raised school lunch prices across the board for the coming year and cut nine teaching positions.

"No one's happy about the reduction of teaching or other staff positions. It hurts, but it's something we had to do," board member Jeri Schopp said.

Schopp added that this is the only one of her 17 years on the board when personnel cuts were needed to bring the budget in on target.

Board member Susan Gill said there was also a certain amount of concern with public perception of any tax increase in light of Erie County's budget situation.

"I don't think what's going on with the county has helped and this is the place where they can take out their aggravations," she said before Monday's vote.

The staff cuts were offset by slightly increased class sizes in several grades in an effort to keep all of the district's academic programs intact.

Several residents voiced their opinions throughout the process, with many asking for no tax hike, something Goris said would be impossible.

One resident, who has six children in district schools, said he has researched the numbers and believes the district put together a "responsible" budget.

"It's a tough thing to do, people don't realize all the costs that are mandated that districts can't control," said Kevin Rustowicz. "I know some people won't be happy, but when you have children you pay more attention to things like education, and you're never going to say no to a child."

The district has scheduled a public hearing on the budget for 7 p.m. May 9 in the Middle School's small theater.

Residents will vote on the budget from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 17 in the high school gymnasium. Both the middle school and high school are located at 1100 Ransom Road.