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Clarence residents debate upcoming school budget re-vote

Chris Caya/WBFO News

The acrimony over Clarence's defeated school budget continued Monday night during a meeting at Clarence High School to talk about the vote next Tuesday on a new and reduced spending plan. The school board hearing on the proposed budget was noisy and raucous, although the crowd was much smaller than during earlier sessions over spending for the district. Both opponents and supporters made their voices heard.

Voters have already turned down a budget which called for a nearly ten percent hike in property taxes, although the actual spending increase was about one percent. The latest plan calls for a tax increase around 3.5 percent. That reflects a spending cut of $2.5 million from the rejected plan.

The new budget plan slashes much of the district's modified and freshman sports programs and eliminates 53 positions. If voters reject the revised budget, a contingency plan would be enacted, one that would cut another $1.5 million in spending.

School Board President Michael Lex says the cuts threaten the high quality education offered in Clarence.

"The Clarence District stands on the brink of educational insolvency. A defeat of this budget will undo a long-held tradition of academic excellent in this community and precipitate a powerful shift toward mediocrity," Lex says.

Lisa Thrun from Citizens for Sustainable Schools says there have to be more concessions from teachers and administrators.

"It's a conversation that's constantly about the past. We have to go toward the future and we're looking for those solutions. We've got people looking over the school budget and when I asked for a line item. When I did a FOIL request, I did not get a line item. It didn't even have revenues on it. So, that sent up a lot of flags of concern. If they aren't doing that how are they are making the right decisions for children," Thrun says.

The original budget proposal called for nearly $2 million in spending cuts and more than two-dozen staff cuts. While there is a vocal group calling for the cuts, there are others who say the continuing cuts will damage or destroy the quality education it provides at a low cost by local standards.

"There is no spending crisis. Taxes are very low, spending is very low. And in spite of very low spending, Clarence annually returns a school district rated in the top two," says Chris Kausner, who has three children in district schools.

"We ought to be giving these people a parade, not jamming pay cuts and concessions down their throat and saying 'You're not doing enough to earn your money.'"

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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