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$159 million Williamsville school plan maintains services, raises taxes slightly

The superintendent for the largest suburban school district in the area rolled out a revised budget proposal last week that would reduce spending by $2 million but still maintain school programs.

The result would increase school taxes for Williamsville schools by just under 2 percent instead of 4 percent.

The $159 million budget would still raise spending by nearly 3 percent, but $8.2 million in reserves would be spent to offset the gap between rising expenses and the burden on taxpayers.

"We need to step up and make Williamsville and Williamsville education a priority," said Superintendent Howard Smith. "And I would say to this board, asking our community to increase their taxes by 1.9 percent to support a quality program with no significant reductions to it is the right place to be."

Another budget work session is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday in the district office boardroom at 105 Casey Road, East Amherst.

Last month, board members expressed concern regarding Smith's initial budget and asked him to offer budget reductions.

At a public forum on the preliminary budget last week, several residents raised issues with the initial budget Smith presented.

"Every year, I say, 'When does it stop? When does it stop?' " said Amherst resident Edward McKee. "Every year, there's another reason to increase the budget, to increase the support from taxpayers."

In his revised budget proposal, Smith would reduce spending by $2 million by cutting a number of items including repair and maintenance reserves, conference expenses, computer and software purchases, cleaning services and retirement contributions.

He also recommended a 20 percent cut in school and administrative supplies; the elimination of support for state-level student competitions; and a reduction in the number of unassigned teachers. He also listed savings from 12 teacher retirements.

The board expressed unanimous support for the reductions.

Smith also gave examples of the types of dramatic cuts that would be needed if voters do not approve the school budget, forcing the district to implement a contingency budget that would require cutting an additional $4 million in expenses.

"These are not recommended," he said, before outlining some options the district would be forced to consider. "They are for informational purposes only."

Such cuts would include raising class sizes, eliminating or reducing most elective and nonmandated courses, cutting middle school sports programs, and eliminating summer school and gifted programs for elementary students.

In other news, incumbent board members Ramona Popowich and Dawn Cerra announced that they will not seek re-election. Board member Carrie Kahn is running for a second three-year term.

Interested candidates for one of the three open seats on the board should contact the district office for a petition packet. Qualified candidates must submit their petitions by 5 p.m. April 19. The annual budget vote and School Board election will take place May 18.

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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