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SARANAC LAKE - A report from the state Education Department shows most school districts across New York are practicing fiscal restraint during tough economic times.

The property tax report card shows the average property tax levy increase will be 1.89 percent statewide under school districts' proposed budgets for 2009-10. That number is well below this year's average of 3.37 percent and 3.91 percent the previous year.

The study also shows school district spending increases have dropped for 2009-10. The statewide average spending hike is 2.3 percent. That's compared with 5.29 percent this year and 5.97 percent in 2007.

Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, says this year's budgeting process was more difficult than officials thought it would be.

"Putting together a school budget under these circumstances has been difficult," he said. "Having to lay off dedicated and talented employees hurts. Eliminating programs that our children enjoy and benefit from is upsetting."

In the Tri-Lakes, all three school districts have been working to keep spending, and the tax levy, in check.

The Saranac Lake Central School District dipped into its fund balance to keep the tax levy the same as this year.

District Business Manager Mike Kilroy told school board members last month that applying $813,000 in fund balance to the budget wouldn't jeopardize the district's finances. "We know we're still going to have a healthy fund balance," Kilroy said.

Spending in the Saranac Lake school budget is down by $36,000. Lake Placid's school budget carries slightly higher numbers, with the tax levy increasing by 3.97 percent and spending increasing by 3.21 percent. However, the district will save money by terminating four full-time positions at years-end.

Superintendent Jim Donnelly insists the budget strikes a balance.

"The foundation of this budget was based upon trying to find a balance between what's best for children and what's reasonable for the community to support," Donnelly said. "We cut close to $400,000 out of our baseline budget, at the same time without cutting programs for students."

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