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Superintendent Thomas G. Coseo has presented the Clarence School Board a 2001-02 budget draft of $48.9 million, up $6.9 million over this year's budget.

The amount is a worst-case scenario that includes all spending requests, said Coseo, noting that the numbers will be reduced during budget work sessions.

At Monday night's board meeting, Coseo outlined a number of factors that are driving up expenses.

He noted the proposed increase in staffing to accommodate a projected student growth of 2 to 3 percent, or approximately 100 students.

Coseo said he expects a slight decline in elementary enrollment because of the exit of a large fifth-grade class and entry of a smaller kindergarten population.

But middle school enrollment could be up by 60 to 65 pupils and the high school by about 60 students, he said.

The increase in student population would require seven more teachers, including a guidance counselor at the high school and five additional teachers, including a counselor at the middle school, said Coseo.

Later, he said that the final budget probably won't include all of the requested staff.

A member of the audience commented that the middle school will be over capacity next year and asked officials what will be done about it.

But Coseo said the building won't be at capacity. He said the projected enrollment is 1,100 and the building's capacity is 1,200 to 1,300 students.

The superintendent said that there are plans to create additional instructional spaces in middle school rooms, as well as to stagger the start and end times for various periods.

Coseo said the draft budget also includes a 20 percent increase for electricity, 30 percent for heating and 15 percent for health insurance. But he said some of those estimates might come down before budget approval.

The district is also facing a first payment of $2.1 million for the interest and principal on its upcoming elementary expansion and renovation project.

Coseo noted the "offsetting revenue" of 77 percent, which is the state aid for the project.

Other increases include more than $200,000 for the balance of Clarence's $883,000 share of a Board of Cooperative Educational Services capital project, as well as new and expanded initiatives related to the meal program, advanced placement courses and staff development.

In a related matter, Business Manager Richard J. Mancuso called trustees' attention to a transportation memo outlining next year's request for school buses. He said the district wants to purchase 12 vehicles at a cost of $875,000.

Trustees have scheduled three budget work sessions, including one from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday in Conference Room B at the district office in Clarence High School. Other sessions are set for March 8 and April 4, both from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at the same location.

The board also heard a presentation on the "Bookworms" program for third-graders at Sheridan Hill Elementary.

The after-school program, now in its second year, encourages pupils to read and discuss different types of books in a small group setting.

Teacher Roz Vasi, who suggested the program, said students are beginning to take charge of the discussions and to generate their own questions.

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