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Tonawanda schools eye budget gap

An administrator in the Tonawanda City School District said he is anticipating a $1.2 million budget shortfall during the 2011-12 school year, as officials began planning for the upcoming fiscal year during a meeting Tuesday night in Tonawanda High School.

Assistant Superintendent Joseph Giarrizzo outlined the budget-planning schedule to the School Board and members of the budget advisory team.

Although it is early in the process, Giarrizzo is estimating a $30.7 million spending plan for next year, with salaries and benefits accounting for 57 percent of appropriations. But estimated revenues are $29.5 million, leaving the $1.2 million shortfall.

"Right now, it looks worse than it really is," Giarrizzo said of the shortfall. "We do have money to help with the budget."

Should the district remain in red ink, Giarrizzo said he plans to dip into its $1.9 million rainy day fund to cover the shortfall. The district is also hanging on to nearly $800,000 in federal stimulus money to ease the pain.

"I wouldn't recommend using all [the fund balance] now, because that federal stimulus will be gone next year," he said.

Much of the budget depends on what Albany sends Tonawanda's way.

Last year, the state gave Tonawanda $9.4 million in financial aid, a 5 percent cut from the previous year. Giarrizzo is estimating aid to remain stable this year but won't know for sure until Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announces the state budget next month.

The assumption being made by Giarrizzo at this stage is that the cost of benefits will increase by about 10 percent, although he won't have a final number until April, while employee salaries will rise 4 percent. The rest of the spending budget will be frozen.

At this point, the district is expected to maintain current staffing levels. It eliminated 33 positions last year.

"[We're] assuming there's no significant reduction in staff," Giarrizzo said. "We'll have to see as we move forward."

District officials will continue to discuss the budget in the coming months. The board is scheduled to adopt a budget April 12. Tonawanda residents will vote on the proposed budget May 17.

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