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Lancaster school officials are hoping the third time's the charm, at least when it comes to yet another districtwide vote on transportation spending.

Then again, a Dec. 17 vote set by officials Monday may turn out to be the third strike in a year marked by voter outcry against spending in the district.

The district's total budget was soundly defeated on June 11, and four propositions -- including one for bus purchases -- were again voted down in early September.

Under the new transportation proposition agreed upon by School Board members, voters will decide whether the district should buy 12 new buses for next year at a total cost of $872,000.

If approved, the purchase would add 5 cents to the district's tax rate in each of the next five years.

Superintendent Joseph L. Girardi said the purchase is necessary because the district must replace old buses taken out of service this year and must accommodate bus runs to a new school for fifth- and sixth-graders set to open next fall.

"We need them," he said. "There's still an uncertain picture of state aid, and we're still opening a new school next year."

Board President Richard D'Arcy said the district, faced with transportation scheduling problems, needs to be able to provide more bus runs next fall.

"We'll be forced to contract those buses out, or purchase them outright, to provide that transportation to children," he said.

The district operates under a "full transportation" policy that was approved by voters in a past referendum, Girardi said.

"All children in this district -- whether they live 15 feet from a school -- must get full transportation," he said. "We must have buses to meet that responsibility."

According to Girardi, the new school will still have a 9:45 a.m. starting time -- an announcement that was greeted unfavorably by residents in September -- unless more buses are purchased or the district's entire transportation schedule is juggled.

Voting on Dec. 17 will take place from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school.

In other business, the board:

Heard an enrollment report by Anthony V. D'Amore, director of pupil services, that showed enrollment up 66 students this year for a total of 5,323. D'Amore told the board that district enrollment has increased by about 1,500 over the past eight years. The figure does not include students living within the district who are bused to private and parochial schools, said James J. Reitmeier, transportation supervisor.

Heard a report by town Building Inspector Robert Laney that fire inspections have been completed on all district schools with satisfactory results.

Held ribbon-cutting ceremonies for a new Long-Distance Learning Lab in the high school.

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