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TWO REBUKED IN ACCUSATION ABOUT BUDGET

Lockport School Board trustees Tuesday rebuked two members who had alleged the board acted improperly when it adopted the 2001-02 school budget two months ahead of schedule during a special meeting Feb. 5.

The trustees, many of them reading from prepared statements, leveled charges at trustees David E. Blackley and Renee A. Knight. The two had alleged that they were blindsided by the budget vote and that the vote took place without a full disclosure of what was in the $60.3 million spending plan. Trustee John VanBenschoten insisted the board's intentions that evening were quite clear, while the charges against the board were deceptive.

"I believe their charges that the Board of Education acted deceptively or illegally in adopting the 2001-02 budget have been leveled in an effort to deceive the public, to incite opposition through an intense publicity campaign, and ultimately to try to impose their agenda on the district when the majority of the board has voted otherwise," VanBenschoten said.

He and other trustees implied that Blackley and Knight, who was not present at Wednesday's meeting, were conducting "a scorched-earth campaign" to defeat Superintendent Christine A. Neal's proposed budget because it included plans to convert Charlotte Cross Elementary School into an early-childhood center. Knight and Blackley, critics of Neal's plan, presented an alternative proposal that was rejected by the other members of the board.

A week after the Feb. 5 meeting, Blackley and Knight held a news conference and charged that they had been ambushed by the budget. They said as far as they knew, the board had planned only to take action on Neal's recommendation that night and that they had no warning the board was going to vote on the budget as well.

Blackley on Tuesday introduced a resolution to rescind the board's adoption of the budget. Though it was seconded by Trustee Mark R. Shaw, the resolution was defeated, 8-1.

Despite being the brunt of criticism, Blackley was unrepentant.

"I still feel to this day, we have engaged in some highly irregular activity when you approve a budget in February," he said.

Blackley said a budget calendar released in November called for budget deliberations through February and March and a vote on a final recommendation in April, which he said is what the board had done in previous years.

"I want to be as far away from this (budget) as possible," Blackley said. "The bottom line is we still have a budget that's $60 million and that at this point we did not follow regular procedure on."

Other board members insisted they all had been apprised of the budget vote, held ample meetings starting in August and had earlier set parameters for the administration to bring the 2001-02 budget proposal in at an increase of no more than 3.5 percent over the current year's contingency budget.

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