By DAVE GYMBURCH Staff writer

After hearing questions about middle-school Italian courses, textbook purchases and fundraiser policies, a tentative 2012-13 Rome school district budget was unanimously approved by the Board of Education.

The board voted 8-0 Wednesday night to adopt the tentative spending plan after about eight people spoke at a public hearing attended by about 50 people, and during the regular meeting. Absent was board member Christine Esposito.

The $101.2 million budget calls for a 1.72 percent local tax levy increase, which Superintendent Jeffrey P. Simons said was less than the 1.81 percent allowable after further review of the state’s new tax cap guidelines. It also calls for maintaining current academic and sports programs, including middle-school Italian classes that had been a concern of some at the hearing. The board will vote May 2 on a final budget version that will be presented for district residents’ approval in the May 15 public election.

Simons reviewed budget details before addressing public comments. Among them:

¿ Parent Jeffrey Isherwood asked about Italian programs, and Simons said the district will "offer it next year for seventh grade." In the current 2011-12 school year it was available for eighth graders but not seventh graders following teacher retirements and realignments, he explained, but the 2012-13 budget will restore it for seventh grade.

Andre Berardi, a part-time Italian teacher at Strough Middle School who received applause from some of the audience after Simons identified him, asked about his job status. Simons said Berardi’s position would be restored after the new budget passes.

About 100 Strough students in grades 7 and 8 took Italian in the 2010-11 year, while about 60 in grade 8 are taking it in 2011-12, said Principal Tracy O’Rourke.

¿ Kathleen Murphy of 1404 Franklyn St. said she was informed that some students are using textbooks printed in 1980, and that some also are sharing books. Isherwood also noted textbook issues.

The district receives state aid for new textbook purchases, said Simons, and "cycles through" its books for replacement. Sometimes there are delays for new books to meet updated standards, while book requests in some elective courses may depend on teacher and department preferences, he said. He emphasized "we do have resources" to accommodate new books.

¿ Murphy expressed concern about an elementary-age student who came to her door soliciting for a school fundraiser, without an adult. She said a neighbor also was concerned.

The district has contacted its schools to reinforce fundraiser policies that do not support students going door-to-door, said Simons; clubs and special events are among other fundraising sources, he said. But he also emphasized that parents must take responsibility for supervising children.

¿ Rome Teachers Association union President Robert Wood said "I stand in support of the budget," and expressed "exuberance and relief" that no layoff notices were sent to teachers.

¿ Frank Marasco of 119 2nd St. asked about enrollment projections for 2012-13, and whether district boundaries could be adjusted to receive more students from the greater Rome area. Enrollment of about 5,700 has been "generally flat" in recent years, said Simons, and no significant declines are expected next year. About six students from other districts are attending Rome schools under a tuition policy, he added.

¿ Ken Metz of 6445 Wager Drive in Lee again asked why the district needs to spend about $1.7 million in the 2011-12 budget for technology purchases, and questioned why district financial statements list varying amounts for payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements on certain properties. Simons said buying the technology now will generate more state aid in 2012-13, while the PILOT figures were adjusted due to clarifications in tax-cap guidelines.