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Lancaster Schools pass $91.5 million budget plan Proposal cuts jobs, raises property tax

The Lancaster School Board on Tuesday approved a $91.5 million proposed 2012-13 budget that raises spending by 4.47 percent and raises the amount to be collected in property taxes by 1.88 percent over the current school year.

The district would cut several positions, including three elementary school teachers, because of declining enrollment at the elementary level but avoided deeper cuts thanks to an increase in state aid.

The budget proposal, which goes to district voters next month, anticipates raising the property tax rate by 1.51 percent for Lancaster residents over the rate for the 2011-12 school year.

The budget for the Lancaster Central School District would see the increase in the property tax levy fall well within the cap set by the state, while avoiding deeper cuts to programs or staff positions that other districts have made this spring.

"I think we achieved a balance with this budget," board president David Zalenski said after the meeting. "There is an element of a tax increase -- it could have been worse."

The budget proposal was approved by a 6-0 vote at Tuesday's School Board meeting, held at the William Street School. Board member Marie MacKay was absent.

School Superintendent Edward J. Myszka said he hopes district voters will support the budget proposal, which also received an endorsement Tuesday from Eric D. Przykuta, the president of the Lancaster teachers union.

"It maintains all of our excellent educational programs," Myszka said after the vote.

The School Board and district administrators worked throughout the spring to balance the 2012-13 budget proposal.

Employee salaries and benefits drove the increase in spending from the current year's $87.6 million.

The $545,000 in budget cuts proposed by the district include the layoffs of three elementary school teachers and the elimination of three lunchroom monitors at the high school and middle school, as well as two teacher's aides who work with special-needs children.

"The cuts that were made were due to declining enrollment," Myszka said. Despite those cuts, an absent Przykuta asked a colleague to read on his behalf a statement of support for the budget.

An earlier version of the budget called for a 3.7 percent increase in the property tax levy, but district officials said at the time that an increase in state aid could lower this proposed tax increase.

The district initially anticipated receiving $26.2 million in state aid, but recent changes to the state budget left the district with $26.8 million in aid, an increase of $1.2 million over the figure for the 2011-12 school year, said Jamie L. Phillips, the assistant superintendent of business and support services.

The extra $628,000 in aid, along with $165,000 taken from a reserve fund to pay for retirement incentives for employees, allowed the district to lower the increase in the property tax levy to 1.88 percent. The levy, the total amount to be collected in property taxes by the district, is estimated to be $44.5 million next year.

While the district includes parts of Cheektowaga and Elma, properties in Lancaster make up the bulk of the tax base.

The property tax rate for the Lancaster portion of the district would rise by 24 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, from $15.88 in 2011-12 to $16.12 in 2012-13.

The owner of a home in Lancaster assessed at $150,000 would pay $2,418 in school taxes in 2012-13, an increase of $36 over the current school year. The district will hold a public hearing on the budget May 7, and district residents will vote on the proposal May 15.