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City's earned the chance; After nine years of fiscal oversight, control board shifts to advisory status

The training wheels may be coming off, but the bike will be anything but stable. Mainly because of the Buffalo School District's precarious finances, but also because of questions facing the City of Buffalo itself, the decision by the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority to shift to advisory status could be short-lived. Circumstances allow for no other interpretation.

But that doesn't mean the city hasn't earned its chance for independence from the control board.

The board was created nine years ago when the city faced budget deficits in the tens of millions of dollars. Now, things have changed. The city has largely cooperated with the board and has posted year-end fiscal reports that would be the envy of other cities.

Thus, the control board's 6-1 vote to enter an advisory period comes as no surprise. Indeed, it's a defensible response to the city's performance over the past several years. The control board was not meant to be a permanent fixture, simply one that would help the city regain its financial balance.

It will enter advisory status with the start of the city's new fiscal year July 1. Under state law, it will remain in force for 25 years, with the ability to reconstitute itself as a "hard" control board if circumstances warrant.

Circumstances await. The control board covered both the city and its dependent school district. While the city is now stable, the district is a financial basket case. It is facing a four-year, $100 million deficit and, courtesy of the Buffalo Teachers Federation's mulishness, may be kicking away $57 million in federal and state dollars.

Maybe the district will find a safe passage through that jungle, but it's hard to see how. The control board, if it is wise, will keep its green eyeshades handy.

Also potentially troublesome is the city's need to negotiate new contracts with its unions, especially those representing police and firefighters. And the city continues to rely heavily on state aid, as most cities do. But, while the grip of the recession may be easing, Albany remains on its own financial ledge. Its future generosity is a matter of speculation.

Still, give Buffalo credit. It has managed well over the past several years with the assistance of the control board. It deserves the chance to pedal on its own now, and it will be a shame if the control board needs to reassert its authority over the city because of the school district's issues.

That is why the state long ago should have split the city and school district into separate entities with separate control board authority.

We hope if it comes to that — if the control board needs to return to its hard status solely because of the school district's issues — that Albany will belatedly take that step. While they are joined by the city's authority over the district, they are different entities with different issues. The state should be willing to recognize that.