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Ken-Ton adopts $149 million budget; tax rate increases 4.66 percent

Developed with the philosophy of “no further harm to programs” in mind, a budget of slightly more than $149 million was adopted Tuesday by the Ken-Ton School Board.

“No educational programs are cut, no extracurricular programs are cut, no athletic programs are cut,” said Gerald J. Stuitje, assistant superintendent for finance.

Initiatives such as Big Picture alternative learning and International Baccalaureate programs are intact, and class sizes will remain at current levels – although some parents say they are too high.

But for district residents, who vote on the budget May 21, the tax rate is up 4.66 percent. If property assessments remain stable, the annual tax bill will increase by $95 on a house with a market value of $100,000.

Though the vote to adopt was unanimous, some School Board members were less than enthusiastic about the final budget for 2013-14.

“I’m disappointed, to say the least,” said President Bob Dana. “I am hoping this is the last time we need to see an increase.”

Both he and board member Jim Simmons said they had hoped that closing Jefferson Elementary School this summer would have improved the district’s financial footing. At the time of last August’s vote, the savings was estimated at $2.5 million.

“It frustrates me that even after closing the school building, we were looking at a ... deficit,” said Simmons, who had cast the sole vote against it. If it didn’t happen, “I think we would be in terrible shape.”

At one point, the projected deficit stood at $3.1 million.

Along the way, 17 teaching jobs were cut – many related to Jefferson’s closure, as well as 24 support staff positions.

But as of the last budget work session March 26, there still was a great unknown. “Obviously, the biggest development was that the New York State 2013-14 budget was passed,” Stuitje said.

Not only did basic state aid increase by $800,000, eliminating the remaining deficit, but Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, secured $50,000 in special aid for the district.

The discussion and vote on the budget were overshadowed by a lengthy discussion about a growing movement by parents opposed to the high-stakes standardized testing of their children. State assessment tests are scheduled for next week.

Though only one parent spoke Tuesday on the subject, saying the group was looking to open up a dialogue, several others were in the audience.

Last week, members of Western New Yorkers for Public Education met in a local church; it was their second gathering in recent weeks.

Dana, the School Board president, and Stephen Brooks, the vice president, were there.

“Unfortunately, what I found was that much of the information provided at the meeting was inaccurate,” Dana said.

Dana said the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, more commonly known as the No Child Left Behind Act, and the Annual Professional Performance Reviews of teachers required by New York State are the roots of the problem.

“School districts aren’t to blame,” he said.