Cutting nearly $1 million from next year's budget was one of the few times recently that the Holland School Board approved a measure unanimously.
And although School Board President Stephen Welk joked that Monday's action deserved a round of applause, few in the audience seemed in a mood to celebrate the cut, which amounts to 5 percent of the budget.
The preliminary budget presentation drew one of the largest crowds for a board meeting in years, filling high school auditorium seats with a cross-section -- from senior citizens to high school students.
Many spoke, and the message was consistent: Don't wreck our school district.
Welk said the goal to cut 5 percent from the budget stemmed from a shrinking school population that had shrunk from 1,450 to 1,050 over recent years -- with "no adjustments or response from the administration."
Fred Thurnherr, board vice president, added, "We are rapidly becoming a nonviable community. I would like our kids to stay in Western New York. That's why some of us have chosen to stand up and take the heat and do this."
But residents said they did not want their taxes cut if it came at the expense of education.
The most volatile issue was the proposal to cut four to six teachers from the elementary payroll.
Pat Almeter, a special-education teacher outside of the district for 30 years and mother of two children who are district graduates, said: "I'm disturbed about the cutting of elementary teachers. Kids fall through the cracks. Believe me, I've seen it. You pay for them, one way or the other."
There were other heated exchanges with the board -- not only from residents but teachers and administrators, as well.
"Our focus should be curriculum, then co-curricular, then extra-curricular," said Middle School Principal Eric Lawton, who noted that only 10 percent, or $27,700, of the athletic budget was hit, while six teachers, a counselor, aides and $114,000 in school equipment were all on the chopping block.
Although Thurnherr touted the tax cuts as a means of saving the district from a possible merger due to shrinking population in the hamlet, more than a few residents said they would gladly pay more for their children's education.
Sara Greenley, a fifth-grade teacher in the district with a child about to start kindergarten, told the board:
"A 5 percent reduction equals $100 in tax cuts for me. One percent equals $20, that's a half a tank of gas, a night out -- I'd gladly give it up. You have to make tough decisions. I'll choose my child over tank of gas. Rethink the 5 percent."
Among postions cut in the board's action were four elementary teachers, one middle school teacher, three teacher's aides, a drug and alcohol counselor, and part-time maintenance and transportation positions.
Saved from the chopping block were a part-time band teacher and money for the school musical, field trips, summer school program and late bus run.
Though board member Ronda Strauss approved the budget package, she voted against motions eliminating the teaching positions, maintaining that the district should postpone any staff cuts until aid from the federal stimulus package is confirmed.