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PANEL PLANS DRIVE TO SAVE MUSIC, ART

Last summer, some Williamsville school district residents learned that loud voices, large crowds and strategic public pressure could change the course of an annual school budget.

As Williamsville administrators and School Board members are about to learn, a core group of close to 50 residents -- mostly parents and teachers -- is planning a concentrated attack to repeat the success of last summer's "Save Our Sports" effort, which returned athletics programs to the district after they fell victim to budget cuts.

In a planning meeting Monday night in Williamsville North High School, members of SMART, the Save Music and Art Committee, set a goal: to get as large and vocal a crowd as possible to attend the district's next School Board meeting, set for Jan. 6 at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium of North High School.

This time around, as the district struggles to meet contractual obligations while sticking to a School Board-mandated 1.57 percent budget-to-budget increase, the issue isn't sports. Now, some elementary and middle school music, art and second language programs are on the chopping block.

But, for many in the residents' group who worked to bring out a district record of 10,000 voters late this summer, the rules of the game are the same.

"With the sports issue, I don't believe we would have gotten the third budget vote unless we had had vigilante, jock parents out there," said Richard LeFauve, who spearheaded the "Save Our Sports" committee last summer.

"No matter how accommodating the board appears to be, we should take nothing for granted until we see that final budget that will go to the taxpayers in May," said LeFauve, addressing the crowd of parents and teachers. "Williamsville residents' apathy is something we're going to have to deal with on this issue, too."

The group, which formed last week and has already collected some 700 signatures on a petition to save the threatened programs, plans to intensify letter-writing, petitioning and public speaking efforts, focusing on the Jan. 6 School Board meeting. LeFauve said the group will attempt to collect more than 1,000 total signatures to present to board members at that meeting.

Those looking to save the threatened programs and staff -- the district has also suggested cutting the jobs of up to 17 teachers and 3.5 aides -- face roadblocks including the presence of taxpayer groups that are simultaneously trying to get the district to make further cuts, LeFauve said.

"I don't think there's anything magic in a 1.57 percent increase. No one has told me there's a guaranteed budget passage in May if they stick to 1.57 percent," he said. "But the taxpayer groups were pretty vehement last May. . . . They are certainly out there in numbers."

The suggested program cutbacks, presented to the School Board by Superintendent Ann B. Fuqua, include the elimination of fourth grade instrumental music instruction, fifth grade second language classes and seventh and eight grade art classes.

Ms. Fuqua has stressed that the cuts are suggestions and have not yet reached the level of district recommendations for next year's budget. A public forum on the 1998-99 tentative budget will be held Jan. 28 in the district, and the School Board will unveil a final budget by April 1.

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