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50 teachers, 9 others face layoffs under proposed budget

Fifty teachers and nine other district employees would be laid off July 1 under the proposed $111.4 million Niagara Falls School district budget for the 2006-07 school year.

It exceeds the current $107.2 million budget by $4.2 million or about 3.9 percent.

School Superintendent Carmen A. Granto presented the spending package to the School Board on Thursday. The board will work on that proposal until March 30 when its is scheduled to adopt a final budget to be presented to taxpayers for approval in May.

The proposed layoffs would include 24 elementary, six high school and six middle school teachers and six other staff members. Another 14 teachers and three other employees, such as teacher's aides, also would be cut because of an anticipated $780,000 decline in state, federal and other grant monies, Granto said.

"That's the bad news," he said. "The good news is the budget contains no school property tax increase [here] for the 14th straight year and it does not take away any programs from students," Granto said.

Granto also said he had no choice but to cut some personnel next year because of declining enrollment. "These cuts were going to happen no matter what happens because of declining enrollment "unless the state gives us more than a $3.5 million increase in state aid."

There are 940 fewer students attending city schools this year than there were four years ago, and district officials feel they will lose even more students next year.

The layoffs also will slightly increase class sizes at the elementary level.

Granto said, "Pre-kindergarten through second grade class sizes will go up from an average of 19 students per class to 21 or 22. That's below the 25 allowed for" in the Niagara Falls Teachers contract. "Grades 3 through 5 average class sizes will go up from 21 and 22 to 24," four students below the 28 student limit, he said.

Cutbacks also are needed because of an anticipated $2.75 million jump in expenses, including a 10 percent or $970,000 increase in employee health insurance costs and a $720,000 hike in contributions to the state retirement system to cover employee pensions, District Business Administrator James J. Ingrasci said.

Other cost increases next year include: $1,600,000 to cover negotiated salary hikes, $120,000 in Social Security contributions, $1.1 million for Orleans-Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services programs, $600,000 in utility costs, $100,000 in gasoline costs and $1.8 million to cover payments on money borrowed for capital improvements and construction costs.

More layoffs could follow if the state fails to increase school aid to the district by $3.5 million next year, the figure Granto said he included in the budget's revenue projections. School officials will go to Albany to campaign for that increase on Feb. 28 and 29.


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