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More cuts sought to ease loss of aid

They already imposed a hiring freeze and made cuts to such items as field trips and supplies, and now Clarence school officials are banking on extra savings like early retirements to erase an anticipated $2 million loss in state aid in the coming year's budget.

The School Board is hoping to keep tax and spending increases for the 2009-10 budget "to a bare minimum," said Superintendent Thomas Coseo.

As it now stands, district officials want spending to increase by no more $1.5 million, or 2.2 percent. The tax levy would increase by 2 percent.

"That's ball park," Coseo said. "It's still very early in the process."

The issue goes to the public at a meeting at 7 p.m. Monday in Harris Hill Elementary School, 4260 Harris Hill Road. Another session is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 9 in Sheridan Hill Elementary School, 4560 Boncrest Drive East.

Like public schools statewide, Clarence is worried about losing state aid as Albany scrambles to close a $13.8 billion budget gap for the fiscal year starting April 1.

Gov. David A. Paterson's executive budget calls for reducing state aid to school districts on a sliding scale. Under Paterson's proposal, aid to Clarence schools will be reduced by 11 percent, or $2 million.

That could -- and traditionally does -- change as a governor's budget proposal winds its way through the Legislature. Local schools usually end up doing better in the final budget than earlier versions. In fact, over the years state aid has jumped by huge percentages in many districts. That includes Clarence, which saw an almost 50 percent increase between 2000 and 2007 alone -- far above inflation.

The tax levy also increased about 50 percent while total spending during that time doubled, according to the state comptroller's office.

Last time around, Clarence got lucky: It received a 15 percent bump in state aid that helped the $68.9 million budget keep the tax levy unchanged while increasing spending by 4.38 percent.

But Coseo said that, given the dire state of the economy, the district is braced for the worst.

Among the proposals to erase the deficit but also keep spending and taxes down:

Continuing a hiring freeze that was started last November, when Paterson first announced the need to cut spending.

Saving up to $1 million by not replacing retiring teachers.

Continuing cuts to supplies and equipment, which would save up to $300,000, Coseo said.

Using $3.8 million of the fund balance, about $2 million of which would be building aid reimbursement.

To some degree, the cuts being discussed are "nibbling around the edges," Coseo noted. This is because in Clarence, as with other districts, 80 percent of spending is for salaries and benefits -- contractually protected costs.

e-mail: ncervantes@buffnews.com

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