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Voters in Clarence easily pass new budget

Clarence Central School District voters overwhelmingly approved the budget Tuesday, ending weeks of rancorous debate that stoked passions on both sides of the school funding issue.

In six Western New York school district revotes Tuesday, only the Wilson budget was defeated.

Lisa Thrun, who worked to defeat the original Clarence budget, said passage of the second version “is a good thing.”

“The community tonight said they’re willing to provide bridge funding for this year, knowing we need to find long-term solutions. Everyone in the community needs to come together.”

The Clarence budget was approved 3,541 to 1,817. Alden voters approved their budget, 753-586.

In Lewiston-Porter, the budget was approved, 1,663 to 993; in Niagara Wheatfield, the margin was 2,402 to 1,795; and in Bemus Point in Chautauqua County, 601 to 440.

The Wilson budget was defeated 903 to 604, with about 400 more people coming to the polls than came last month.

Some budgets, like those in Clarence and Lewiston-Porter, would spend less than this year. None of the tax levies was above the tax cap, and all needed a simple majority to pass.

“ I think it says that Clarence is a community that is supportive of its schools,” Superintendent Geoffrey Hicks said, adding that he was “grateful” to voters for passing the budget.

The Clarence school vote got a lot of attention after last month’s resounding defeat of the original budget that called for a 9.8 percent tax increase.

Turnout for the Clarence school revote was steady throughout the day but not as high as when the first budget was defeated a month ago.

More than 5,000 voters had cast their ballots as of 8 p.m., the second-highest vote total in the history of the district.

As far as next year and staying within the cap for next year, Hicks said it will be a challenge. “The message we got from within our community is stay within the tax cap. We know that, and we will do things going forward but there are challenges to that,” he said.

Hicks said those challenges range from unfunded state mandates to mounting payroll expenses – things the district is already working with taxpayer groups to combat.

Two parent groups have already come forward, Hicks said Tuesday, to form charitable foundations to restore modified sports programs and academic cuts that were made. “How it will work out, I don’t know, but there are interested people willing to help out, and we welcome them,” Hicks said.

Paul and Michele Beiter voted yes for both budgets in an attempt to preserve programs for their three children.

“Any budget is better than no budget, because the alternative would be a disaster,” Paul Beiter said. “Some of our kids’ most beloved teachers have been cut, and we don’t want any more of that.”

Sharon Spoth-Wetzler voted no for both budgets. “I think people feel like they have been taxed to death. There’s this feeling of helplessness, and the turnout speaks to that,” she said.

“We need to challenge them to work within their budget and find creative solutions, because asking for more money is not the answer,” she said.

She said the revised budget cut programs but did not go far enough to address the district’s mounting payroll expenses. “It’s still business as usual,” she said. “The heartstring issues are the ones where people change their votes – the art, the music. That isn’t the problem. There are other places where you can cut, and we all know where that could be.”

She added that she pays part of her medical insurance, something she would like to see more teachers in the district do.

Last year, there were 24 revotes in New York State, and only two districts operated on contingency budgets: Cheektowaga Sloan, and Oppenheim-Ephratah Central in Fulton and Herkimer counties.

News Niagara Reporter Nancy A. Fischer contributed to this report. email: and