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District to forgo changes in academics $2.3 million increase proposed in tax levy

One illustration set the tone.

When members of the Williamsville Central School Board met Tuesday, they all looked at a slide illustration noting academic program improvements slated for next school year.

"None," the slide stated.

Even so, Superintendent Howard Smith rolled out a $155 million preliminary school budget for 2009-10 that would increase spending by 2.6 percent and raise the tax levy -- the total amount of tax revenue collected -- by 2.3 percent, or $2.3 million.

Smith stated that this budget is the first one he has put forth that offers no new academic or extracurricular activities for students. While spending still would rise by 2.6 percent, Smith said, "It's the lowest that I've recommended in my time here."

He and Finance Director Thomas Maturski pointed to major revenue hits, including an anticipated 8.8 percent reduction in state financial aid to the district and significantly reduced interest earnings.

Based on current assumptions, Smith said changes in tax rates would range from a drop of 0.33 percent to an increase of 2.31 percent on the next tax bill, depending on whether town property assessments stay level or rise by up to 3 percent. For example, if assessments stayed flat, a $150,000 home receiving a basic STAR exemption would see an increase of $56.30.

He and Maturski acknowledged that Amherst property tax assessments are expected to increase dramatically next year, which would result in an even lower tax rate.

Smith said every department has seen across-the-board cuts in contractual expenses and supplies that total more than a half-million dollars. In addition, Smith said he plans to allocate $5.7 million from district savings and reserves to offset the spending and tax increases.

In other news, the board:

* Approved the calendar set by Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services with great reluctance and after prolonged discussion. Board members expressed deep disappointment at the school calendar, starting before Labor Day, and a spring break not coinciding with the Easter weekend.

Smith, however, pointed out that if the board did not mirror its calendar with the BOCES calendar, several hundred students who receive vocational, alternative and special education services would essentially miss out on nine days of instruction.

Several board members said they felt "bullied" by BOCES and adopted an amendment urging BOCES to change its calendar standards for the future so that individual school boards have more input into the regional calendar. The amendment also asked that in cases where Easter falls in April, the spring break should coincide on the BOCES calendar.


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