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Williamsville draft budget looks to reduce kindergarten class sizes, restore fifth grade foreign language

Kindergarten class sizes would get smaller and fifth-grade foreign language instruction would be restored next school year under a $177 million tentative budget proposal for Williamsville Central Schools.

The classroom enhancements are part of a draft district budget for the 2015-16 school year that would increase spending by 1.84 percent but would stay within a state-imposed tax cap.

While school district leaders have drawn up a proposed budget that seeks to restore some programs cut in recent years, administrators still await word from the state about how much aid Williamsville would get next year. Those figures won’t be available until lawmakers finalize the state budget in Albany.

“This was one of the most challenging preliminary budgets that we’ve had to construct here just because of the unknowns,” Superintendent Scott Martzloff told the Board of Education during its last budget work session.

Under the current proposal, which will be aired during a public budget forum Tuesday night, the district would increase the amount of taxes collected by 2.34 percent to help cover the cost of rising school expenses. An anticipated state aid increase and a series of reductions in other areas would also help balance the budget.

Proposed budget cuts include eliminating middle school keyboarding courses, lowering energy costs and reducing the amount the district spends on students who attend courses at Erie 1 BOCES.

Martzloff said administrators have made the proposals to reduce kindergarten class sizes and bring back fifth-grade foreign language as part of a multi-year budget process in which the district looks at its financial situation for the next few years.

“The last thing we want to do is make enhancements and have to turn around and undo those enhancements the following year,” Martzloff said.

The proposals to restore fifth-grade foreign language instruction, which was cut in 2010-11, and hire two more full-time technology support employees would add an estimated $434,000 to the budget next year.

Because the district’s enrollment has decreased, the school district does not anticipate that the proposal to reduce kindergarten class sizes would cost more money. Instead, the district would reallocate existing teachers to add more classes with the goal of having between 16 and 20 kindergartners in a classroom.

Currently, district guidelines call for between 18 and 22 students in each kindergarten class.

“Especially when it’s budget neutral, it seems like a smart move to make,” School Board member Jay Smith said during a recent budget work session.

Under the current proposal, the draft 2015-16 school district budget would increase the tax rate by 2.41 percent next year. A homeowner with a property assessed at $150,000 would pay about $57 more in local school property taxes, according to the district.

Residents will have a chance to ask questions and make suggestions about the proposal during a budget work session and public forum at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the district office boardroom, 105 Casey Road. The meeting Tuesday is the last work session before the Board of Education adopts the budget proposal on April 14.

Residents will vote May 19 on the 2015-16 budget, as well as three propositions for construction projects in schools and at athletic fields that would total $49 million.

email: djgee@buffnews.com