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Williamsville school officials concerned about possible loss of federal aid

Programs that serve the Williamsville Central School District's "most vulnerable students" would be at risk if the district loses any of its $4 million in federal aid, officials said this week.

The Trump administration proposes cutting $9.2 billion — or 13.5 percent — from the Education Department’s budget, the Washington Post reported last week. That could mean less money funneled down to local school public schools.

In Williamsville, that would affect programs across the board, ranging from the district's mental health staff to the free and reduced meal program, officials said.

"Many of the services being provided are services we have found to be extremely important to the school district and to those students in the programs," said Thomas Maturski, assistant superintendent for finance and management services. "If the federal dollars were reduced to any level it's likely that as a school district, we'd want to pick those expenditures up for those programs and provide that to those students."

Williamsville's preliminary budget for 2017-18 is balanced at $186.1 million, but only after at least 30 teachers agreed to take a retirement incentive, which closed a $1.4 million budget deficit. The preliminary budget maintains the current level of academic and extracurricular programming in the district.

While the district projects a decrease of $175,000 in state aid, that picture could brighten before a May 16 public vote on the budget. Superintendent Scott Martzloff cautioned against using any extra funding from Albany on the board's wish list that includes more nurses, a school resource officer, a pilot program for school bus monitors and other items due to the potential loss of federal aid.

"That would come at a time where we wouldn't know it," he said Tuesday at a budget work session. "For example, it might come in the fall or into next winter and impact us during next year's budget from a revenue standpoint, which is one of the reasons I'm trying to remain as conservative as possible if we do get more state aid."

Federal aid is not included in the general fund voted on in May, Maturski said. Rather, the district applies through the state for that money, which is "specifically targeted" to programs. Federal aid is used to supplement a district's budget, he added.

Board member Shawn Lemay asked administrators for specifics about a potential loss of federal aid.

"What kind of services would we lose if we lost that $4 million?"  Lemay asked.

Martzloff said a loss of federal aid would affect a variety of programs across the district and promised to provide the board with a list.

"The last thing you want to do is take away funding for programs for your most vulnerable students, which is what it would do," Martzloff said of the proposed cuts.

The discussion came as the district released new numbers showing that 16.4 percent of the district's 9,972 students participate in the free and reduced meal program. That's a 36.3 percent increase since 2012, as the district's enrollment declined 3 percent over the same period. The percentage of eligible students is an indicator of poverty in a district.

Also, 3.3 percent of the district's students are now English language learners, an increase of 58.5 percent since 2012.

"Part of that is due to the changing regulations within New York State and who is serviced as an English language learner," said Martzloff. "And part of that is new English language learner students moving into our community from other countries."


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