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School budget is focus in City of Tonawanda

With voting only four months away, the Tonawanda City School District has begun publicly meeting to discuss the multimillion-dollar budget for the 2007-08 school year. Tuesday marked the second meeting of the administration, the School Board and the district's budget advisory team.

During each session, officials will outline a specific area of the district budget. No total budget figures are available yet, but administrators expect to see increases to the pupil personnel and special-education allocations, thanks in part to a nearly $100,000 rise in aid to the Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

According to officials, about 10 percent of the district's budget is directed toward BOCES, which helps teach students, including special-education children, off the Tonawanda campus. Assistant Superintendent of Finance Peter H. Michaelsen defended the cost of the program, noting that it would be more expensive to teach the same subjects in Tonawanda.

"They have the staff there, which is more cost-effective than us having staff for every one of those services," he said.

While there are few details available on the overall figures, what will complicate the budget process is the expiration of two union contracts last summer. If negotiations between the district and the unions are not finalized by the budget adoption date, Michaelsen said, he can only estimate how much the salary and health insurance lines would increase.

What officials hope will offset any possible tax increase is the amount of state aid Tonawanda receives from Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer's first fiscal plan. Spitzer campaigned on increased money for education, and Michaelsen is hoping he delivers on that promise.

"Whether that is just campaign rhetoric or it's an actual realization [of revenue], we'll know by April," Michaelsen said.

Officials will continue to outline specifics of the budget for the next two months during board meetings. The first draft of the entire spending plan is to be presented March 27. Revenues and the estimated tax rate are to be discussed April 10.

The board will then allow the public to speak on the budget during a hearing April 17, allowing the board to make changes if needed prior to adoption April 19. Another public hearing will be held May 8, with the budget vote and board election occurring May 16.

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