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BOARD PLANS PUBLIC BUDGET-MAKING SESSIONS RATHER THAN WORKING BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

For the first time in recent memory, the Depew School Board will put together a budget in public.

In the past, everything took place behind closed doors. The public had no idea what was happening and little input.

Superintendent Robert D. Olczak, who was hired this July, announced at Thursday night's school board meeting that he's changing all that.

First, he will provide updates on how the budget process is going at school board meetings starting Feb. 18. It's a standard practice in most districts -- including Starpoint Central in Pendleton, which Olczak oversaw before coming to Depew.

"It's a process that I'm comfortable with and have had success with," Olczak said. "If people have input into the process, it's easier from them to understand and support."

Support was one thing the district's budget didn't get from voters last year. A budget calling for a 2.2 percent tax hike was shot down in May. In June, voters approved a $26 million budget that raised taxes 0.69 percent.

In addition to updates at board meetings, Olczak is taking the district's new openness one step further. The public is invited to attend meetings between the superintendent and district staff as they discuss spending in specific areas.

For example, at 7 p.m. Monday a committee will discuss how transportation, buildings and grounds and utility costs will affect next year's budget. The results of those sessions will be summarized at some of the school board's regular meetings.

Depew residents may want to keep a close eye on this year's budget talks.

First, the district wants money to meet new standards required by the State Board of Regents, Olczak said. Second, the district is installing computers in every classroom. It wants funds to show teachers and students how to use the new technology.

The district also wants $100,000 for new reading materials, Olczak said. That's on top of the money needed because of an ongoing lawsuit involving parents of special education children.

Another factor is an audit in October revealed that the Depew School Board took money from a reserve fund to minimize this year's tax increase.

At the time of the audit, the district had $14,922 in something call an undesignated fund balance. The year before, Depew had $795,646. The money is for unforeseen costs and rainy days.

The auditor advised the district to curtail spending this year and replenish the account.

In other business, the district accepted a $1,000 donation to help the district's libraries from Martin Green. Green graduated from Depew High School in 1930 and now lives in Mesa, Ariz. The board also approved the seventh grade taking a two-day field trip to Camp Weona in late May.

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