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Lancaster schools' budget is under fire

A proposed $89 million budget that at first included closing a Lancaster elementary school, cutting teaching jobs and slashing elective classes at the high school -- yet still would raise school taxes by almost 21 percent -- came under fire Monday from an overflow crowd including students and parents.

"Why are you making the kids suffer?" Randall Stanton, a senior at Lancaster High School, asked the School Board to a huge round of applause. "That's just wrong."

Most of the evening's speakers were students from the high school, but one resident represented the other side of the coin by issuing a warning.

"The tax increase you're talking about -- some people are going to be pushed out of their homes," said Guylene Nalezynski. "This budget probably won't pass. Everyone has to understand that."

Monday's session was called by the board to get public input on the budget, which like school budgets across New York State and elsewhere is full of bad news.

The district is losing $4 million in state aid for the 2010-11 school year but is also coping with $6.77 million in fixed costs. The board originally started with $91 million in spending -- and a 27 percent tax increase.

Superintendent Edward J. Myszka told the audience that the board is creating a citizens task force to study the budget and come up with ways of balancing it. The first meeting will be held at 7 p.m. April 8 in Room 122 of the high school.

"We're going to need everybody's help to pass this budget," Myszka said. "Let's turn this into a positive. We should work together, shoulder to shoulder."

At the start of the session in the high school auditorium, the board announced that it had decided against switching from the current nine class sessions to eight. To do so would have put elective classes on the chopping block.

Later in the evening, the board also announced that it was postponing a motion to close Central Avenue Elementary School, which has declining enrollment.

The board will come back to the issue April 12, after the task group has had a chance to offer alternatives to closure.

The board also voted to offer a $20,000 early retirement incentive attached to health care funds in hopes of shaving the district's payroll.

Officials warned that the situation will be much worse if the budget is defeated when voters go to the polls in May. A contingency budget would still end up with a 9.14 percent increase in the school tax and bring total spending down to $84.6 million.

If that happened, the district would likely revert to eight periods, thus cutting electives.

e-mail: ncervantes@buffnews.com

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