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$23 million Wilson school budget cuts 6 jobs, ups spending slightly

A public hearing on the proposed $23 million Wilson School District budget is planned for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the high school auditorium.

Residents will vote on the spending plan May 15 at the high school, 412 Lake St., as well as choose two of four candidates for the seven-member School Board.

The proposed budget increases spending a slight $63,000 but also represents the loss of six full-time equivalent jobs in the district.

"We have tried to spread these cuts through all departments, in the elementary, middle and high school and support staff," Wilson Superintendent Michael Wendt said. "Last year, we cut 16 full-time equivalent jobs.

"We believe this is a responsible budget," Wendt said. "The cuts do hurt, but this is a balancing act between the expectations of the residents and their taxes and our responsibility to provide a good academic program. We believe this is the best budget to bring to the public."

The total proposed budget of $23.5 million represents an increase of 0.27 percent over the current budget, district officials noted.

John Montesanti, the district's business administrator, didn't estimate what the tax rate would be in the new budget, but he said the current rate is $23.91 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Property assessments from the town are not recorded until late summer, and school tax rates depend on these figures, school officials said.

Montesanti said the amount to be raised from property taxes and the percentage of the budget from state aid in the proposed budget are both 47 percent. The tax levy in the proposed budget is $10,876,072.

The four-way race for two School Board seats features two incumbents and two newcomers.

Incumbents Michael Leggett and Christopher Carlin and newcomers Christopher Srock and Eric Truesdell round out the field of candidates. All have children in the Wilson School District.

Leggett, 43, has served six years on the board and is seeking his third term. He is a criminal investigator with the Niagara County Sheriff's Office.

"We have cut [the school budget] to the bone, and we have to work to make ends meet," he added. "But we have to stay away from the core classes. We need to continue to campaign for mandate relief from Albany, and we hope to make headway, as well, on ongoing contract negotiations."

Carlin, 53, is finishing his second year on the board. He was appointed in January 2011 to fill an unexpired term, then won a special election last May to keep the seat for one year. He is running for a full three-year term.

Carlin is a federal investigator for the U.S. Department of Labor and a former police chief in Niagara Falls. He also is a retired chief deputy in the Niagara County Sheriff's Office and spent 33 years in the Air Force Reserve, retiring as a master sergeant in the Office of Special Investigations.

Carlin said he believes his "education, experience as an investigator and administrator working with supervision, management, budgeting and labor issues provides a clear advantage" in this election.

"Over the past two years, we have been faced with the challenges of severe and disparate cuts in state aid to our district," he said. "Despite these challenges, we have worked with administrators and staff to ensure delivery of the high level of educational services our students and families deserve."

Srock, 32, has been a stay-at-home father since being laid off by the state Parks Department, though he was recently rehired, he said. No stranger to races, he ran unsuccessfully for the 62nd State Senate District seat in 2006 against Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane.

He said he is running for a seat on this board to "improve some issues" he has seen in the district.

"Whether it is consolidation, funding or community communication, we need to come closer to our ideals of our youth to help our children," he said. "Consolidation may be necessary, but not enough information has been given to convince me it is a viable option at this time."

This is a first run for office for Truesdell, 34, a dispatcher for a truck company.

Truesdell said he's been attending School Board meetings the past few years. He said other options should have been publicly discussed before the board decided to cut 16 jobs last year to reduce spending.

"I think that any election in a democratic society shouldn't go unopposed," he said. "I don't care about the popular thing to do. The right thing needs to be done."