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Alden School district officials offered the public details Tuesday night of the proposed 1998-99 budget, which tentatively stands at $20,274,997, a roughly 7 percent increase over the current year's budget.

Officials described the budget as a work in progress.

Additional staff and programming costs are now projected at $1,225,692 more than the 1997-98 spending plan, with some cuts expected in the coming weeks.

The proposal does not project any tax rate increases, as officials said it is too early to estimate state aid and revenue.

About 15 residents turned out for the last public input session before the board adopts a final plan on April 21. Explaining the need to maintain strong academic programming, officials spoke frankly about how and why money is being spent.

"At annual meetings in the past it was already a done deal," said Superintendent Donald Raw. "Now, while we're still in the process -- the opportunity is there for input."

The biggest impact to the budget is in salary and programming. Additional staff and salary increases are $673,709 more than current spending. Special education costs are also up, by $312,362, because more students are entering the program that the district is mandated to provide.

Business Manager John Cecchini said $66,807 for a full-time library media specialist at the middle school is necessary but will be partially offset by not contracting with BOCES for the service. Another additional expense in personnel is for a new school psychologist, a $73,427 salary allowance that was cut from last year's budget.

"My biggest concern is teachers' salaries," said 14-year district resident James Campobello. "And we never get a chance to vote on that."

Parents, concerned with safety, and residents, concerned with tax dollars, listened to revised plans for remedying traffic and parking problems at Alden Primary. A proposed bond project will go before voter on May 19 in two parts.

Proposition 1, for $99,900, is for the purchase of an adjacent lot for $89,900, plus an additional $10,000 for building renovation to qualify the project for state aid. Proposition 2, for $265,000, would cover all construction related cost for a new parking lot, driveway and a soccer field at the school, with additional school renovations included to qualify this portion of the project for state funds.

Total district cost, on the 10-year bond after state aid, is estimated at $57,758. Dividing the project into two propositions allows the district to recoup some costs faster, as well as giving voters options about the second phrase of the plan, said officials.

"I don't care if you take out of this pocket or that pocket -- it's still coming out of my pocket," complained Alden resident Skip Jablonski.

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