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Cheektowaga-Sloan School District officials Wednesday night said they aim to hold increases in the 1998-99 budget to 2.2 percent.

With the preliminary budget carrying a 4.8 percent spending increase, they have a way to go.

"We might as well try to live within to begin with," said Superintendent James P. Mazgajewski. "If we're only going to have to get down there anyway."

Under new state law, if a district budget is defeated twice, schools must adopt a contingency budget with a 2.2 percent spending cap. The mandate does not allow districts to add new programs.

With the budget down from an 8 percent increase in the original proposal, officials cut another $514,000 this week. However, board members are unhappy about tradeoffs needed to put together a budget that won't anger voters.

Dropped were a new guidance counselor, expansion of the pre-K program to full time, more class computers, funding for field trips, late buses for after-school activities, co-curricular extras and a new second-grade teacher.

Even with these and other cuts, board President Lawrence Marek said more are needed to lower the estimated $2.25 per $1,000 of assessed valuation tax rate increase.

It took two tries last year before voters approved the final $14,849,519 plan, which raised the tax rate an average of $1.30.

Now, with reserve funds for lowering taxes close to depleted, officials are not optimistic about a small tax rate increase.

"I'm not happy with these options," said Trustee Edward Bednarczyk. "We're really between a rock and a hard place."

Business Manager Kevin Ziembe said it comes down to weighing one program against another. Parents from middle and high schools turned out again Wednesday night, voicing their opinions about where the money should be spent.

Promising to work for voter support, they praised board members Claire Ferrucci, Cecelia Grzybek and Pat Rago for efforts to find money for modified sports.

"Athletics can fuel an education," said parent Carol Ehnes.

The board next meets at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to review the preliminary budget.

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