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BOARD PASSES BUDGET WITH 2.8% INCREASE

The Orchard Park School Board unanimously passed a $63,419,519 budget for 2005-06 on Tuesday evening, a 2.8 percent increase from the current year's spending plan.

The vote came at the end of a long string of public comments by angry residents, criticizing not only the board's choice of a superintendent last year but also its budget policies.

The budget, which cuts nine teacher positions, goes before the voters for approval on May 17.

Ray Morningstar Jr., assistant superintendent for business, explained that the budget includes the original spending plan discussed on April 5 plus $200,000 the board authorized that day for technology.

The additional $200,000 boosted the increase to 2.8 percent -- higher than the original 2.5 percent increase projected last week -- but won't take more out of taxpayers' pockets, Morningstar said.

"The tax levy was not increased by this adjustment," he said, "because the district will receive an offsetting amount -- we're counting on that offsetting amount -- of additional revenues from state aid. The tax levy will be based on the April 5 budget increase of 2.5 percent."

Board president Joseph Bieron added that $19,235,855 in state aid will give Orchard Park "the same budget that we entertained last week."

Board member William Thiel said the current year's tax levy was a 9.57 percent increase from the previous year, but next year's tax levy will increase by just 2.86 percent. "The tax rate is a fraction of the tax levy," he added, and it will be set after the state assigns the district an equalization rate.

Before the budget vote, Jason Winnicki, president of the Orchard Park Teachers Association, said many school districts are passing budgets with increases of 4 percent to 6 percent to maintain or increase the level of education.

"During the election on May 17," he told residents, "remember this frustration. Vote."

Dan Ljiljanich, vice president of the teachers association, also criticized the board for "allowing our facilities to fall apart," citing a swimming pool malfunction last week.

"Since 2001-02, we have had eight different middle school assistant principals," Ljiljanich said. "People are fleeing this district. We have lost 22 teachers -- not including the nine you are now cutting -- while gaining 82 students."

Valerie Lawson of West Seneca said "a lack of leadership was shown in putting together this budget, based on a 2.5 percent bottom line." She accused the board of "passing budgets that are consistently below the cost of living" and warned that Orchard Park graduates won't be equipped to compete in the global economy.

e-mail: acardinale@buffnews.com

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