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Kindergarten stays but budget cuts 6 teachers

SANBORN – Kindergarten stays, and arts and sports programs will remain untouched, but six teaching positions are to be cut in the budget that will be presented to Niagara Wheatfield Central School District voters in May.

But that could change after the budget vote.

The School Board on Wednesday unanimously approved a $62,753,100 budget for 2013-14 that pulled back from eliminating or reducing kindergarten, a nonmandated program, as was suggested at the April 17 meeting to cover a $1 million deficit.

After that, the suggestion became a hot topic that drew dozens of parents and others to the meeting to protest. However, the board heard the budget presentation and approved the package before the audience participation portion of the meeting.

The move took most but not all of the steam out of the gathering, as several speakers announced they would not speak because their points were moot.

Board President Steven Sabo said although he was very pleased to report that kindergarten would not be affected, he warned that if the budget fails, everything is back on the table.

The budget reflects a property tax hike of 5.91 percent, a figure that does not exceed the state tax levy limit. The tax levy for next year is $30,354,760.

He said that if the budget goes down, kindergarten would probably be cut to “at least” half-time and the board would have to reduce funding for junior varsity sports and other nonmandated items, such as music and arts.

If a second budget vote does not pass, Sabo said all nonmandated programs would be eliminated as the board would be required to present a budget with no tax increase.

The majority of speakers thanked the board for keeping kindergarten intact and several urged the audience to pressure state officials to make changes in the education law that would take the burden off local taxpayers. Some criticized the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency for handing out too many tax abatements to businesses that do little to benefit the economy of the area.

Jake Dullen, of North Kline Road, directed most of his criticism at the board for using kindergarten as a means of increasing taxes.

“What I heard is if you don’t approve this tax increase, we’ll cut kindergarten,” he told the board. He asked the board to consider cutting coaching fees and requiring a larger employee health insurance contribution as ways of saving money.

The budget will again be discussed at the May 8 public hearing that begins at 7 p.m. in the adult learning center.