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District eyes cuts in sports to help close budget gap

The boys varsity volleyball program and middle school boys and girls basketball and soccer programs would be eliminated, as would many extracurricular activities under the latest East Aurora school budget proposal.

The district is trying to close a $1 million budget gap and already plans to eliminate the equivalent of nearly 16 teaching positions.

The board will next discuss its budget proposal at 7 p.m. March 7 in the Middle School, 430 Main St.

The new round of suggested budget cuts would shave $32,278 from the budget, but it was not getting much support from School Board members.

"This is offensive because we're arbitrarily slicing and cutting. The reality is there's no more money left here to find," Stephen Zagrobelny said. "We've pulled and squeezed. The game is over. This nickel-and-diming over extracurricular activities is just going to ruin that middle and high school experience."

Included in the latest round of potential cuts is $5,000 in unspecified extra-curricular programs; $19,178 in middle school -- commonly referred to as modified -- sports; $7,400 by scrapping the boys varsity volleyball program; and $700 by having the Cross Country Booster Club pick up fees tied to the modified cross country program and having the Wrestling Booster Club continue to pay for modified wrestling.

Board member Eric Sweet said he doesn't support cuts to sports, saying overall sports expenses represent just 1.1 percent of the budget.

"We're basically eliminating the whole modified program," he said. Last year, the district eliminated modified track.

"Sports can't be a sacred cow, but we have to realize that at 1.1 percent of the budget, sports isn't going to get you much," Sweet said, noting that 20 percent of East Aurora's coaches serve in a volunteer capacity.

The district also may consider expanding the allowable walking distance for Middle School students to one mile from the current three-quarters of a mile, affecting an additional 104 students. The district wants to keep the bus fleet its current size to ease scheduling problems.

Superintendent Brian Russ, who has three children attending the schools, said he knows the budget cuts are not popular.

"Unfortunately, we are forced to make some difficult and uncomfortable decisions," he said. "If we had a choice, this wouldn't be in front of you right now. I don't want anyone to think I take any of this lightly."

Curriculum cuts, fewer electives, larger classes and a schedule change could be in the future for the high school. German language instruction may be phased out, and certain electives could be offered every other year.

High School German teacher Katie Reimers, who works part-time, pleaded her case.

"We have a very strong German heritage in East Aurora," she said. "We have a fairly big footprint for being such a small program in such a small district."