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In a startling reversal, the Lackawanna School Board unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday evening to construct a new elementary school at a cost of $13.1 million.

Voters will be asked to approve the proposition and bonding on the November ballot.

The move caught most residents by surprise, because the new board majority was elected in May 1997 on the crest of a sound voter defeat of the previous board's proposal for a new elementary school on Martin Road, then estimated to cost $12.6 million.

The board also approved a property-tax formula that will effectively wipe out the City Council's recent 20 percent shift of the tax burden to homeowners.

The School Board met in a special session attended by 35 residents in the middle school cafeteria.

Sameh Masry, the district's accountant, explained the tax decrease.

"The district's exercise of control over its spending did improve the fund balance (more) than anticipated in the budget," he said, "thus overcoming the 20 percent shift of tax apportionment from non-homestead to homestead."

Decreases will benefit homeowners and business owners. The homestead tax rate will be 10.38 cents per $1,000 of property assessment, down a slim .22 of a cent from the current year. Masry added that the total homestead reduction over the past two years will be .56 of a cent. The business rate will be 25.5 cents, down 3.27 cents.

In the 1997 election that brought in Diane Kozak as president and Mark L. Balen as vice president of the School Board, voters defeated the proposal for a new school, as well as the proposed 1997-98 budget calling for a 9.74 percent tax increase.

While the district has long been under state pressure to solve its problem of inaccessibility for the disabled by building a new school, the proposal didn't gain momentum until the state reimbursement formula was made more generous.

As Masry explained, the state would have paid 81.6 percent of the cost of the school last year, but now it will pay 91.6 percent.

The board set a special meeting for Nov. 3, when the ballots will be counted.

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