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June 19 budget revote comes with a warning

The lone school budget to go down to defeat last Tuesday in Erie County will get a second chance at passing June 19.

The Cheektowaga-Sloan Board of Education agreed unanimously Monday night to hold a revote on the proposed $33.37 million spending plan, taking responsibility upon itself for failing to rally supporters out to the polls.

"It's a little embarrassing for us," said Superintendent James P. Mazgajewski, who explained that the district routinely sees 400 to 500 votes opposing the budget "no matter what we put out."

If the budget fails a second time and the district is forced to adopt a contingency budget, Mazgajewski warned, it could start the district on a devastating track. "Because you're under a tax cap now, if it doesn't pass, you're going to lose that flexibility to get that money back," he said.

The superintendent said, "We can't blame anyone but ourselves" for the defeat. It's just a matter of whether people come out to vote."

They didn't last Tuesday. There were 454 against and 421 in favor of the budget.

Mazgajewski said he's optimistic that it will pass June 19, the day set by the state for failed budgets to be put to revote in school districts.

Cheektowaga-Sloan's proposed 1.25 percent tax levy hike was up to the limit imposed by the state tax cap.

This year's budget defeat was the district's first in a dozen years. It came on the heels of the teachers' agreeing to wage and step freezes for 2012-13, a move Mazgajewski credited with "saving" the budget of Erie County's third-smallest district.

Also discussed was whether a proposition that passed and will roll back the district's transportation requirements can be put up for a revote.

The board learned that a district resident would have to circulate a petition and obtain a minimum of 25 registered voters in Cheektowaga-Sloan to get that up for reconsideration.

The district has bused all of its students except those living very close to their schools for the last five years. Under the plan voters approved last week, 651-404, children in kindergarten through grade 8 will now be required to walk if they live within a half-mile of the school. High schoolers living within a mile will have to walk.

The move will save the district about $14,000, or 6 cents on the district tax rate, according to Mazgajewski, who said the other cost will be in reduced safety for students and more headaches for administrators.