SPARTA - School board officials are pleased with the level of support the community showed for the 2004 budget. On April 20, an eight and one half cent budget increase was approved by a vote of 913 to 662 at the Sparta School Board election. "We try our very best to be conscience of what our increases mean to the taxpayer," said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Morton. Included in the budget are monies for five new teachers and a guidance counselor for the high school, and six teachers and a guidance counselor for the middle school. "We're really excited about that because our class sizes were getting out of control in both buildings," said Morton. Other capital expenses included were repairs to the high school roof, additional parking at both the high school and Alpine School, and new athletic programs. Girl's junior varsity lacrosse, hockey, and volleyball will be combined with a new boy's JV lacrosse team. According to Morton, a defeat of the budget would have had a negative impact on the education programs offered. He emphasized that the cost per pupil in Sparta is lower in comparison to the rest of the state. "I believe we provide an outstanding education in Sparta at a very low cost per pupil," said Morton. The budget approved by the voters translates to an increase of $85 for every $100,000 of assessed value. The new teachers will come at a time when negotiations between the district and the teachers' union are at a stalemate. Both parties have failed to reach an agreement in almost a year and a half (See story on page 1).