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The latest and possibly the last draft of the 1998-99 Clarence school budget is an almost $39 million plan that increases spending by $118,105, or just three-tenths of 1 percent over the current year.

In a budget workshop Tuesday, School Board President James A. Powers noted that officials achieved the small increase despite a projected enrollment for next year that is up by more than 100 students.

The district is adding the equivalent of 5.5 regular and special education teachers, two teacher aides, two custodians and three bus routes, but there are decreases in several areas, such as equipment, supplies, the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, benefits and debt service.

The $38,995,365 proposal is $260,000 less than a draft presented at the March 24 session, and board members congratulated Superintendent Thomas G. Coseo on the reductions.

"You've certainly done a lot of homework in the last week," said Trustee Jane W. Sweet.

Trustees had asked administrators to tighten the earlier proposal by Tuesday's session, which was the last budget workshop scheduled. Any further adjustments in the plan will likely come in response to an April 20 public information meeting. The board will adopt a budget April 27.

Coseo said the latest cuts include $70,000 from elimination of two elementary teaching positions; $35,000 from removal of one special education position in the additional staff requests; $80,000 in reduced payments to the state teacher retirement system; $50,000 from computer hardware purchases through BOCES; and $25,000 from funds earmarked for various small projects.

While the projected elementary enrollment is up by 15 students, some lower grades will see a decrease, and Coseo said the district can "safely" eliminate the two teaching positions -- one each at the kindergarten and fifth-grade levels.

Coseo said no staff members will lose their jobs because reductions will be accomplished through attrition. He also said class sizes can be expected to increase slightly, from 20.7 to 21.3 students.

Elimination of the elementary positions, along with the addition of five full-time equivalent positions at the middle and high schools, means the district will realize a net gain of 3 regular education positions next year.

The high school is expected to make the greatest enrollment gains next year. Officials are projecting an additional 86 students. The middle school enrollment is projected to increase by 13 students.

A request for the equivalent of 3.5 teachers in the area of special education and speech therapy was reduced to 2.5, said Coseo, who said if it should become necessary to restore the position, administrators will have to make reductions in other areas.

In response to questions from trustees, Coseo said that the district was able to reduce money budgeted for the teacher retirement system after receiving information from the state that the percentage paid by the district has been decreased.

School officials did not project a tax rate, noting the lack of information on the Town of Newstead revaluation, the state aid picture and the STAR (school tax reduction) program.

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