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Niagara Wheatfield board asks administrators for new budget

The Niagara Wheatfield School Board directed its administrators to return next week with a 2012-13 budget that carries a property tax increase of no more than 5 percent.

Although the board was presented Wednesday night with a proposed budget that reflected a tax increase of a little more than 4 percent, board members were not comfortable with all the suggested cuts it contained.

Late into the three-hour workshop, board President Steven Sabo took an informal poll of the five members present on the 21 cuts administrators recommended to bring the proposed tax hike down from 9.9 percent.

The only areas they would not agree to cut were the elementary art and music programs, which were targeted for the elimination of six teaching positions for a collective savings of $360,000.

The cuts would have virtually ended the formal instruction of both programs except for what classroom teachers could bring to the children.

Sabo said he wanted administrators to recommend "other options" for saving the same amount of money. The board will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday to decide on a second budget to present to voters.

The list of cuts included a wide range of items that totaled almost $1.6 million in budget reductions, to bring the proposed tax hike to 4.26 percent. The board is trying to reduce the tax hike from the 9.9 percent that voters overwhelmingly rejected May 15, when a $61.8 million spending proposal was presented.

The first budget already contained nearly $4.1 million in reductions.

If the second budget is rejected by voters June 19, Niagara Wheatfield will be forced to adopt a contingency budget that carries no tax increase, a situation officials said would devastate the instructional system. Sabo said he wanted the numbers for the contingency budget, too.

Included on the list of cuts approved by the board are: a wage freeze for non-union employees, a savings of $109,000; applying a $120,000 grant intended for the prekindergarten program to the tax levy; an administrative instructional leadership position at $60,000; $100,000 in reduced legal expenses; a $60,000 guidance counselor; an administrative intern position at $43,710; another $79,355 in athletic program reductions; a monthlong furlough of building cleaners to save $73,830; no floor waxing over the summer, $30,000; along with several other items. The largest amount is the $431,000 in unassigned funding that will be applied to the levy.

To bring the budget tax rate down to zero, the district would have to implement cuts in nearly all areas that are classified as nonmandatory by the state. These would include pre-K, kindergarten, all elementary library, music and art teachers, elementary guidance, summer school, extracurricular activities, interscholastic sports, elective and Advanced Placement courses, school monitors, bus attendants and some level of transportation.