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Three on board fault suggestion of trimming two teacher positions

Three Orchard Park Central School Board members objected Tuesday night to eliminating the jobs of two elementary school teachers under the latest version of the district's proposed budget.

Natalie Schaffer said parents are outraged at the possibility of the cut, which would increase the average class size in second-grade classes to 25 in Ellicott and 24 in Eggert. The classes now have about 20 students.

"There are going to be a lot of elementary parents, a lot, who will be alienated," she said.

Carla Marrazzo and Rachel Baksa, two other board members, also opposed eliminating the jobs.

The cuts were among those proposed by Superintendent Joan Thomas, after some board members said last week they wanted to see the tax levy increase at 5 percent. Her first draft of the budget totaled $80.48 million, with a tax levy increase of 8.24 percent.

Thomas suggested saving $488,000 by eliminating the equivalent of one media center teacher, closing the district office after 6 p.m., increasing the class size in two elementary schools, reducing a music teacher position by one-half, eliminating support for girls hockey, eliminating the insurance committee, eliminating the equivalent of one academic support teaching position, eliminating two special-education teachers because of decreasing enrollment and cutting some modified, freshman and varsity sports programs.

Making those cuts and drawing another $1 million from the district's fund balance would reduce the second draft of the budget to $79.93 million with an estimated tax levy increase of 5.95 percent.

The initial draft of the budget included the elimination of the jobs of an administrator and two teachers, as well as 9.5 support staff positions.

Dozens of teachers and support staff attended Tuesday's meeting, and their leaders pledged to work with the board.

Teachers are willing to open negotiations this year, a year early, to discuss cost cuts for the district, said Adam Ziccardi, chief negotiator for the Orchard Park Teachers Association.

"We are not the greedy teachers," he said. "We are in touch with the public."

Donald Sniezak, board president, said he wished spending could be lower, but he supported the proposal. Schaffer and Marrazzo also argued for restoring the curriculum coordinator's position. They suggested other items that could be substituted.

"That's not our job to pick and choose," Sniezak said. "It's the superintendent's job to have to pick and choose her staff."

"We are not micromanaging," Marrazzo said. "We're trying to make suggestions to do the right thing."

"Orchard Park should value curriculum above all else," Schaffer added.

Sniezak said he was hoping to hold the tax increase to between 5 percent and 6 percent, but Marrazzo said reductions needed to reach that level would "decimate" the district.

"We are in hard times; everybody knows that," said Alfred McClymonds, another board member. "You have to take into consideration the taxpayers."

Thomas said she would try to come up with more options to maintain current class sizes for the board to consider next week. Sniezak said he would like the board to adopt the budget at its meeting next Wednesday.

Also Tuesday, the board approved a retirement incentive program for teachers and support staff.

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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