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

Voters will decide in November whether to approve the proposition and bonding.

The move seemed to catch 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.

During the special meeting attended by about 35 people in the Middle School cafeteria, the board also approved a property-tax formula to effectively wipe out the City Council's recent 20 percent shift of the tax burden to homeowners.

Sameh Masry, the district's accountant, said the tax decrease was possible because the district's "control over its spending" left more money in the fund balance than administrators expected.

Both homeowners and business owners will see tax decreases.

The homestead tax rate will be $10.38 per $1,000 of assessed property value, down 22 cents from the current year.

The business rate will be $25.51.

The district has long been under state pressure to solve its problem of inaccessibility for the disabled by building a new school. But 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.

The proposal didn't gain momentum until the state reimbursement formula for construction was made more generous.

As Masry explained to board members and residents, the state would have paid 81.6 percent of the cost of the school last year -- but now it will pay 91.6 percent.

Joining in the unanimous vote were board members John Makeyenko and M. Elaine Mandy, who had constituted the majority on the old board that originally pushed for the new school.

"I'm 1,000 percent for it," Makeyenko said before the vote. "I'm glad my colleagues on the board smartened up. You were all against it."

"We were not against it," replied Mrs. Kozak, pointing out that the voters rejected it and that the state reimbursement rate only recently went up.

The board set a special meeting for Nov. 3, when the ballots will be counted and the fate of the proposal will be known.

School attorney Carl W. Morgan explained that by "piggybacking on the election" Nov. 3, the district will save the cost of a special election and also will be offering the proposition to a larger expected voter turnout.

Among the reasons the new school is needed, according to the resolution:

School buildings are near capacity and have no room to expand.

The Franklin and Washington School buildings are not accessible for disabled people.

Franklin needs to be renovated inside and out.

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