WHEATFIELD, N.Y. (WIVB) - Tempers flared at Wednesday night's Niagara Wheatfield School Board meeting, one day after residents voted down a budget proposal.
The Niagara Wheatfield Central School District will ask taxpayers to vote on a revised budget for next year, on June 18, after their first proposed budget failed by just three votes. "Plan B" calls for a 4.5 percent tax increase, eliminating a team of teachers from the middle school, to save $300,000, and reducing support staff across the district by another $130,000. It's unclear how many positions that equates to.
School board member Richard Sirianni was the only one to oppose the cuts. He asked for a tax increase of 5 percent.
"Personally Steve, I think those cuts are too deep," Sirianni said, addressing the school board president. "You start cutting more teachers, you're going to increase class sizes."
Sirianni's comments sparked a debate among board members.
Board member Christopher Peters said, "We've got to look at areas that aren't going to hurt the kids as much. The other areas that you're talking, now, get into sports programs, music programs... kids will not want to be in this school. Kids will not learn in this school."
Sirianni added, "The only way to go is, you pump up the 4.5 percent a little."
But the debate ignited anger in the audience, when Peters, who was expressing frustration that taxpayers seem to want neither a tax increase nor cuts to any programs, said, "The parents in this school district do not care about their kids' education."
The crowd collectively groaned and someone shouted, "Oh, come on!"
Peters retorted, "Then why are we not having parents show up to vote?"
One man responded, "Excuse me, Mr. Peters. I believe it was said that we're not going to be derogatory towards each other, we were going to be professional in this meeting. You just insulted my parents, sir! That's what you did!"
Peters quickly corrected himself. You could see the board members' stress over the difficult budget situation all over their faces.
Board president Steven Sabo said, "The reality is, we have to sell a budget to the entire community, not just a group. Obviously, decisions are not easy."
If this second budget fails, Niagara Wheatfield would revert to a very bleak contingency budget. Kindergarten could be cut to a half-day, elementary schools would no longer have music; the middle school's music program would be cut; there would be no interscholastic sports, and on top of all that, the board would have to come up with $487,000 in staff reductions.
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