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After feisty elections mark shift in balance of power, Buffalo School Board gets back to work

The day after feisty elections upset the balance of power on the Buffalo School Board, its members got back to the business Wednesday of coming up with a budget for the next school year.

As of now, the district is looking at a preliminary spending plan of $856.5 million, up by 3.7 percent, or $30.6 million, from this year. The district, however, still faces a $4.2 million deficit despite using $10 million in fund balance.

“Based on tonight, it looks like we need a little more work,” said Larry Quinn, a member of the board’s current majority.

The district will look at other savings, including cutting the amount that it pays to vendors.

“Is it your belief we can close the deficit without touching staff?” said board member Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, who will be part of the new majority.

“That’s the goal,” said Superintendent Kriner Cash.

One area where the factious board shares common ground is lowering class sizes in the lower grade levels to about 18 to 20 students in each class. On Wednesday, the board asked for a more detailed summary of class size by school with the hope of adopting a budget at its regular meeting next week.

Smaller classes are a key component in the superintendent’s turnaround plans, called the “New Educational Bargain.” Next year’s budget would include a $17.2 million “down payment” to phase in Cash’s plan, which also covers opportunities for extended learning; several new innovative high schools or high school programs; and converting a number of schools into “community schools” to provide more “wraparound” services and outside resources.

Board members discussed the budget at their Finance & Operations Committee meeting, where – except for a few cordial congratulations before the meeting – little was said about the elections that saw the current majority lose control of the board, effective July 1.

In fact, board President James M. Sampson and Jason M. “Jay” McCarthy, two members of the majority bloc who lost Tuesday’s elections in the West and North districts, respectively, did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. Neither did Carl P. Paladino, who was re-elected by a narrow margin in the Park District.

Earlier in the day, both sides of the current divide were still considering their next steps.

“I’m not going to take my ball and go home,” said Quinn, who added that he would finish the last three years of his current term, but probably not run for re-election. “The problems that we have don’t go away because of this election,” he said.

Paladino was weighing his options now that he will go from being a member of a 5-4 majority to part of a 6-3 minority. He had said he would not complete a full term because he plans to run for governor in 2018. “I’m just thinking about everything right now,” he said.

Those aligned with the new majority that won control Tuesday declared a new day for the board, which in recent years has been marked by infighting and division. “There will be more harmony. We’ll be more progressive. The issues that we have been addressing since 2011 will not be put on back burner,” said re-elected board member Sharon M. Belton-Cottman.

News Staff Reporter Tiffany Lankes contributed to this report. email: jrey@buffnews.com