School district needs to reverse course on expensive reorganization plan - The Buffalo News
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School district needs to reverse course on expensive reorganization plan

Oh, that’s better. Last week, Buffalo School Superintendent Pamela C. Brown’s purported $1 million in savings turned out to be an increase of about $3 million, including employee benefits.

Now, after changes since The Buffalo News reported that discrepancy, the increase to taxpayers has been cut to “only” $1.6 million.

It all depends on what the meaning of “savings” is.

It’s not that the superintendent was inflating her numbers, you understand, it’s just that the plan continues to be “in flux.”

Here’s what flux has produced so far:

• Instead of adding 39 new union jobs to the Central Office, the revised plan adds 23 jobs. About $1 million of the new payroll cost traces to staffing of the newly created Offices of School Leadership.

Those new jobs are in addition to three new high-level, non-union positions and the filling of an additional position that had long been vacant. That accounts for an additional $443,000 in personnel costs.

• The plan moves 21 Central Office staff members into different positions. Some of these positions previously had been listed as “new” positions by the district but were later determined to be lateral moves, with pay changes in some cases.

Brown and her administrators argue that the reorganization plan, while adding personnel, is nonetheless a cost-saver because 22 of the new Central Office positions are either partly or entirely funded by grants that are not part of the district’s operating budget. They say the changes reduce the district’s general fund by nearly $1.5 million in salaries and benefits.

But grants run out. What happens then? And surely there were better uses for grants than to expand the Central Office in a district where students are failing by the thousands.

There is nothing inherently wrong with reorganizing the district, of course. Indeed, it would be odd if Brown didn’t do that, given the need to do a better job of providing education to the district’s students.

But reorganizing doesn’t automatically mean expanding, which is what Brown has done enthusiastically. And it certainly doesn’t mean attempting to slide one past the public by claiming $1 million to $2 million in mystery savings when the facts of the matter look far different.

The reorganization continues to take shape. Administrators say job candidates continue to be interviewed and hired for open positions, so what the picture will look like remains uncertain.

But Brown and her staff owe the public more information than they have given, thus far. Parents and taxpayers deserve a full accounting of changes, not sleight-of-hand presentations conjuring make-believe savings.

This matters to Buffalo. Brown needs to get that.

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