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SCHOOL BOARD FINE-TUNES $16.6 MILLION BUDGET PROPOSAL

The Fredonia School Board on Tuesday made suggestions for finishing touches to a proposed budget of $16,694,548 for 1998-99.

The spending plan, as it stands, represents an increase of $940,958, or 5.97 percent, over the 1997-98 budget of $15,753,590.

Superintendent James Coon blamed sagging state aid for causing the tax levy to increase. Current calculations for the 1998-99 budget show that the tax levy will increase by $869,284, or 13.72 percent.

Currently, the estimated tax increase for the Town of Pomfret is $58.54 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, representing an increase of $6.63, or 12.78 percent, over the current rate of $51.91.

President Donald Nash said he would like to see a part-time teaching position for the district's gifted-and-talented program made into a full-time position, a suggestion the board unanimously supported.

Nash pointed out that the percentage of the district's academically talented students (3 to 5 percent) is about the same as the percentage as special-education students.

He said pupils who would benefit from the gifted-and-talented program are being passed over.

"I think its a real shame we are allowing this to happen," he said.

Coon said he will research the cost of increasing hours for the teacher of the gifted and talented.

Russell Valvo, board clerk, cautioned against the use of teacher's aides for instructional work.

The proposed budget calls for the reinstatement of about 28 hours of teacher's aide services, which were cut last year.

"If this is instruction, I do not want aides doing it," Valvo said. "I want certified teachers."

Primary School Principal Leonard Vento explained that teacher's aides typically work with students needing additional help in learning material and reinforce what the teacher has presented to the class.

"We're not talking about physics here," Nash said. "I think the aides are perfectly capable of assisting."

Coon called the proposed budget a good spending plan that will maintain the current level of academic performance.

He said that if the budget fails and the district is forced to adopt an austerity plan, it would "destroy the academic program."

Proposed increases in spending for 1998-99 include creation of the position of curriculum coordinator; reinstatement of the position of home-school coordinator that was eliminated last year; and addition of a speech therapist and teacher's aides for kindergarten through Grade 5.

Since February, the district has trimmed $683,794 from the proposed budget. Cuts made since the last board meeting total $244,724.

The district has until April 21 to approve a tentative budget.

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