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Niagara Wheatfield School Board continues budget discussions

Budget issues continued to dominate discussions at the Niagara Wheatfield School Board meeting Wednesday as the members worked toward preparing a proposal for voters this month.

The latest figures showed that the district needs about $60,350,000 to run operations in the 2012-13 school year, according to Dr. Richard Hitzges, a financial consultant hired to oversee the budget process.

About $2 million less than originally projected, the new budget total also has a smaller deficit of about $8.2 million, according to board member Christopher Peters. The deficit was at first believed to be $10.4 million.

Since last week, the district also learned that state aid will be $523,628 more than Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo promised in January. Last year the district was told it would receive an additional $1,102,753 in aid for 2012-13 from Albany, but Cuomo reduced that increase to an extra $123,624.

Board President Steve Sabo said he wanted the extra aid to be used to restore some of the positions the board had to eliminate to balance the budget. He specifically named a core team of teachers at Edward Town Middle School, guidance positions and a librarian.

Kevin Rustowicz, president of the Niagara Wheatfield Teachers Association, urged the board to reinstate as many teaching positions as possible with the aid.

In a budget where layoffs, program cuts and a tax hike of more than 9 percent seem inevitable, the board is attempting to keep education standards as high as possible.

The board voted unanimously to keep its adult education program running for the community. Anita Muzzi, owner of Community Education Resources, said the Niagara Wheatfield program has seen a 37 percent growth over the past two years in class size.

According to the discussion, the program made enough last year to cover the district's investment. Muzzi said it had $10,000 in start-up costs and made $10,351.

Sabo noted that with the modified sports program being threatened, children may be able to turn to community education for some sports. Muzzi said she was working on such a proposal.

The board is expected to pass a proposed budget this month to bring to the public for a vote on May 15.

In another matter, the board went into executive session to discuss its search for a school superintendent. Carl Militello resigned in January and business executive Kerin Dumphrey was named to serve as interim superintendent.