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Money for starting an interscholastic ice hockey program at Sweet Home High School will be in the district's 1998-99 budget despite the opposition of at least one trustee and a local taxpayers association.

Discussion at a Saturday morning budget workshop indicated that a majority of the School Board favors including $26,000 for hockey in the $40.9 million budget proposal, said President James J. Carlins. Trustees did not take a vote on the matter.

Board members quizzed Athletic Director Christopher E. DeMarco on various aspects of a varsity hockey program, which school officials said would replace a Sweet Home hockey club that receives $4,400 a year from the district.

The first-year cost of the program is estimated at $25,800, including equipment, uniforms, ice time, coach's salary, transportation and hockey federation dues. Second-year expenses, which would not include the initial outlay for uniforms and equipment, is estimated at $17,000.

Trustee John H. Radens opposes the program because voters have defeated hockey propositions twice in the last seven years. He has also said it is expensive and will benefit only 20 students.

This would be the first time that the hockey program would be included in the budget, which residents will vote on May 19.

DeMarco said the team will include 20 players and two goalies. Trustee Margery G. Baumler noted that Sweet Home has fielded other sports teams with fewer players.

DeMarco said the program will benefit a larger number of students because freshmen will practice with the team. There are no plans for a junior varsity team.

Donald E. Chapman of the Tonawanda/Sweet Home Taxpayer Association believes that hockey shouldn't be funded by taxpayers. At last week's School Board meeting, he cited the "high unit cost" of the sport, which he put at $1,290 per team player, based on 20 players.

Chapman said the success of the U.S. women's hockey team in the Olympics will likely mean an expansion of the program to include a girls team.

However, DeMarco said Saturday that there isn't enough interest for a girls team at this time, and there isn't a league in which they could play.

Superintendent Gary R. Cooper said he supports the hockey program because costs are down from earlier estimates and he wants to bring the sport under district supervision.

Cooper commented that adjustments in the budget proposal will not affect the 2 percent projected tax increase. He estimated a residential tax rate of $16.58 per $1,000 assessed valuation, up 33 cents, in Amherst and $17.82 per $1,000, up 35 cents, in the Town of Tonawanda.

In other discussion, trustees reviewed a $62,191 budget decrease in the areas of special education placement, refuse collection and transportation salaries.

The board also agreed to purchase four new buses at a cost of $241,938, provided voters approve a bus proposition when they vote May 19. Administrators recommended a consistent replacement schedule of four to five buses a year. Trustees will likely approve the bus proposition at their next meeting.

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