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BOARD CANDIDATES FOCUS ON FUNDING PROBLEMS

Rising costs and dwindling resources pose the biggest threats to maintaining high quality educational programs in the Williamsville School District.

At least that was the consensus among the six candidates vying for four open seats on the nine-member board. They were featured Tuesday in a forum sponsored by the district's Parent-Teacher Association Council, which was notable mainly for the conformity of the candidates' perspectives.

That contrasted sharply with last year's School Board race in which three first-timers were inspired to challenge three incumbents, largely over the board's adoption of a controversial redistricting plan. Nothing as divisive plagued the district this year.

Instead, looming budget concerns appear to have become a rallying point for this year's candidates.

"Clearly, I believe that the biggest challenge in the next three years is going to be the budget," said Diane Roesch of Patton Place, who is making her second consecutive run for a seat on the board.

The district was spared the prospect of having to trim educational programs next year when the State Legislature restored aid to school districts that had been cut in Gov. George E. Pataki's budget. The outcome could be different next year.

"Right now, we're voting on next year's budget, but as soon as this budget is passed, we have to look at the program and see if we can find suggestions (and) ideas to start working on next year's budget now," Roesch said.

William Freeman, a four-year board veteran seeking his second term, said the district will have to seek "pockets of opportunity" to collaborate with other districts and the Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services to reduce costs.

Opinions differed slightly on how charter schools and vouchers would affect the district.

Stephen C. Munschauer of Dan Troy Drive, who ran unsuccessfully last year, said charter schools may be a valid alternative in school districts that are poorly run, but not in Williamsville.

"Our district is a strong district. There are certain areas within the state . . . where this is a good and applicable venue for getting better education, but . . . I don't think it would be an appropriate response to the needs of our children," Munschauer said.

Board Vice President Linda Viksjo, who is seeking another term, said charter schools are a drain on the local district, diverting more than $35,000 from this year's budget.

With the exception of Viksjo, the candidates generally supported the School Board's decision to split the district's two-week spring break in April and move one of those vacation weeks to February to be in line with the Erie 1 BOCES calendar.

Camille Eichhorn of Kristen Meadows, a first-time candidate, said that while the change may not be convenient for families that plan long vacations around the traditional two-week spring break, it will provide a brief but needed winter respite for students and staff.

Michael J. Littman, who last ran unsuccessfully in 1998, said "strategically, the board did the right thing."

The top three vote-getters in the June 3 board race will be elected to three-year terms that will expire June 30, 2006. The fourth-highest vote-getter will be elected to serve out the remainder of Donald R. Henning's unexpired term, which would have concluded June 30, 2005.

Voting will be from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. June 3 in the gymnasium of North High School, 1595 Hopkins Road, Amherst.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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