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Unions ask schools to hold off on staffing cuts Tells board state funds might arrive, save jobs

The Niagara Falls School Board voted last week to lay off 23 members of its two Civil Service Employees Association units, but not before union heads accused the district of approving the cuts too soon.

"I understand the governor will add another $1 billon for education. Maybe we want to see what happens first before putting people out the door," Jeffrey Pasquantino, Falls unit president of CSEA Local 872, told the board.

No matter how hard and efficiently the remaining employees work, he said, "Your services are not going to be the same. . . . It will affect everybody."

Twenty-one members of his 320-member union will lose their jobs, as will two lunch monitors from the CSEA Teachers Associates Union Laborers.

The employees -- who also include cleaners, general repairmen, nurses and others -- will be gone as of Feb. 2.

Superintendent Carmen A. Granto said the cuts were necessary because health insurance premiums had jumped this year by an unanticipated $840,000 for the two unions. Half of that had to be paid by the district and half by union members, who will see $131 taken out of their paychecks every other week to cover the cost.

Already running on a tight budget, the district had no other way to come up with the money to pay the premium, Granto said.

Granto said the hike occurred because of an unusually large number of claims that current and retired employees made for surgeries and illnesses, all of them legitimate.

He said health insurance is like car insurance: "If a person has an accident his insurance goes up. The same thing is true for health insurance."

Mary Donoughe, president of the Teachers Associates, represents 247 classroom assistants, lunch monitors and other in-school employees.

She and Pasquantino encouraged board members to wait on the cuts until Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer had time to decide whether to compensate for the impact of the new Niagara Charter School, which has taken 250 pupils and $2.8 million in state aid from the public school district.

Board member Mark Zito and Human Resources Director Philip Mohr said they have been taking steps to see if they can locate job opportunities and job training for the laid-off workers.

Donoughe said many who lose a job in the district will move to find something else. She said that continues the downward population spiral, further driving down the local economy. If it continues, she said, "This city will become a town."

Board member Carmelette Rotella said cutting schools and staff have been "the hardest decisions I've had to make since I've been on the board."

She estimated that as many as 139 employees who started working with the school district this year will not be on the payroll next year "unless the new governor comes through and gives us the money so we can bring some people back."

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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