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East Aurora school officials are sharpening their pencils and getting ready to shave a nearly $500,000 estimated budget gap, while tentatively figuring they will have to propose a 2 percent increase in the tax levy.

The district’s latest revised budget gap is at $490,000, down from the $637,500 that had been projected in late January.

Still, administrators are trying to find ways to whittle it further, while at the same time not compromising educational programs and attempting to keep current class sizes.

Helping knock down expenses are three teacher retirements, a 19.45 percent reduction in workers’ compensation premiums for next school year and adjustments in BOCES mainstreaming and room rental revenues. The teacher retirement system employer contribution also has been set a bit lower, at 16.25 percent.

At the same time, the district is looking to identify cost savings in many areas, given a drop in enrollment. The district also is looking to its teachers union to realize cost savings, a challenge since the district and East Aurora Faculty Association have had strained relations in the last few budget cycles.

School officials also noted that health insurance expenses are not expected to be as high as first anticipated.

The School Board is debating how much appropriated fund balance to apply toward the budget to hold down the impact on taxes. “$1.2 million is a big number and will be difficult to manage in future years,” said Business Manager Paul Blowers.

However, he said the district’s fund balance is strong. “We have a lot of flexibility if something comes up,” he said.

“We cannot keep cutting and expect it to keep working all the time,” board member Jessica Armbrust said. “At some point, we’ll hit a breaking point.”

Board Vice President Kathyann Lorka insisted the district should not rely heavily on surplus and savings money to plug the deficit. “I think we’re setting ourselves up for failure with $1.2 million,” she said. “It’s too high for this district, and there are too many unknowns, such as state aid, dropping population and outstanding contracts.”

Board President Daniel Brunson said he hoped programs would remain at their current levels and that class sizes would be kept the same: “I don’t want to see elementary classes go over 25, and I think we’ve reached the limit of 25 to 31 kids in high school classes.”

“There will be some adjustment for enrollment,” with increased class sizes likely across the board, Superintendent Brian D. Russ said.

Board member Eric Sweet said it’s important that the board take a hard look at what courses are offered at the high school. “Do we offer French Advanced Placement with seven kids? Can the French teacher do a section of Spanish?” he asked, as examples.

Lorka suggested the administration look at what programs are offered at the high school and evaluate their quality. “Maybe programs need tweaking, instead of class sizes,” she said.

Board member Stephen Zagrobelny said the district needs to stop boosting the burden on taxpayers. “We are not allowed to keep digging into the pockets of taxpayers,” he said.

The administration plans to release its first budget draft at its March 6 meeting.

email: krobinson@buffnews.com