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Staffing reductions protested

Parents and residents came out to protest proposed staffing cuts in the Tonawanda City School District during a public forum on the 2007-08 budget Tuesday evening in Tonawanda High School.

The proposed $29.9 million budget carries a tax increase of 4.88 percent.

Assistant Superintendent Peter Michaelsen said that while the district received a state aid increase of 7.2 percent, several expenditures, such as a 5.5 percent increase to employee health insurance and approximately $328,000 devoted to expected wage increases for open union contracts, have forced a spending rise of $1 million from the 2006-07 school year.

However, several people who attended the meeting questioned the district's decision to eliminate four middle school teaching positions and add more administrative staff, including a grant writer, a part-time public relations worker, a clerical position and a full-time athletic director.

Although it is seen as controversial, Michaelsen defended the grant-writing position as necessary for the district to be awarded more money and revenue. However, he sees the additional position only as a temporary one that must be successful in generating money in order for the district to continue funding it.

Assuming the grant-writing position generates enough revenue to offset that expense, the other positions are aided by funding from the Board of Cooperative Educational Services and the elimination of redundant jobs, so the new staffing would cost the district $63,750 in total.

However, the declining enrollment of the district will continue to be an issue, and it was brought up several times by members of the administration as a concern.

"I'm concerned about the incoming enrollment," Michaelsen said. "Unfortunately for us, if we don't have new housing or changes in our [demographics], our population grows to be senior citizens. That math isn't working for us."

The School Board held the forum before its scheduled budget adoption date Thursday as a way to allow people to offer their opinions on the spending package. While the district will hold another public hearing in May, the board will be unable to make any changes to the budget by that point.

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