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The Amherst Central School District Board of Education on Tuesday approved a proposed budget of $37.08 million for 2005-06.

School Superintendent Dennis Ford said the district has reached an agreement in principle with officials of the teachers union on acceptance of a single health insurance provider. Ford said the agreement is still subject to approval by union members. A vote is expected soon. He said the district also has a contingency plan that would keep the budget intact even if the union members fail to approve the agreement.

Mark Whyle, director of administrative services for the district, said that the move to a single insurance provider, if approved, would eliminate health insurance increases the board had budgeted at $350,000.

Several board members applauded the teachers union for taking the initiative and cooperating with the district to curb insurance costs.

"This could have dragged on all summer or beyond. Now it looks like it's going to be done," said board member David J. Dengler. "This is a win-win situation. Hats off to the teachers."

"When we began the budget process, we had two unknowns: the state budget and the insurance issue," said board President William T. Blanford. "Who could have predicted things would come together like this?"

Ford said: "We feel totally and completely confident that we can present these numbers. From an overall dollar factor, this is -- for me -- the most significant opportunity I have experienced in my 32 or 33 years doing this."

The superintendent declined to give additional information on the agreement or the contingency plan until the agreement is acted on by the union.

The $37.08 million budget proposal represents an increase of 1 percent and a tax levy decrease of 0.2 percent from the 2004-05 budget, Whyle said. That means the district will collect about $50,000 less in taxes from district residents and businesses next year than this year, he said.

While the tax levy is set, he said, the tax rate remains up in the air until Amherst settles its reassessment process.

The proposed budget would eliminate four full-time teaching posts and one administrative position and change two full-time teaching positions to part time.

The proposed budget goes to a public vote May 17.

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