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SCHOOL BOARD CHIEF OPTIMISTIC ON SAVINGS VAN EVERY SAYS PANEL REPORT COULD MEAN $15.7 MILLION TO DISTRICT NEXT YEAR

The economy measures proposed earlier this week by a blue-ribbon panel could produce quick savings and help ease the Buffalo School Board's current budget crisis, said School Board President Donald Van Every.

The bulk of the potential $188.5 million in savings identified by the Buffalo Financial Plan Commission would be realized beginning in the 1996-97 school year.

But Van Every noted that $15.7 million in economies are proposed for the school year that begins in September.

"There's no question we could look at $14 million of the $15.7 million as viable options," Van Every said. "The logic of the recommendations is telling. We have to look at them."

School district staff members have been directed to analyze the proposed 1995-96 savings and to report their findings to the board, Van Every said.

Any substantial reduction in expenditures would be of great significance since next year's proposed budget includes deep cuts in staff, programs and extra-curricular activities -- and still includes a likely gap of $22 million.

The recommendations for immediate savings include:

A more cost-effective approach to operating the new Stanley M. Makowski Early Childhood Center.

The elimination of 33 administrative positions.

A reduction in absenteeism.

The removal of 25 teachers from administrative positions.

Overall, the commission's 34 proposals would save the schools $188.5 million over the next five years.

More than $98 million of the economies -- or 52 percent of the total -- depend on the agreement of some or all of the eight unions representing school employees. The bulk of those proposals would require the consent of the largest of the unions, the Buffalo Teachers Federation, which Thursday stepped up its criticism of the report.

"Our next negotiations will begin in February," said BTF President Philip Rumore. "If the district wants to bring things up, they have the opportunity to bring them up. But any proposals that come from the report, because of the way they came about, will obviously be viewed by us in a negative light."

Rumore charged that the report was prepared secretively and that the results were preordained. He said the teachers union provided the commission information on sick leave, supplementary benefits and grievances, and was then shut out of the process.

"We were betrayed," Rumore said. "They ruined any credibility they had with us."

Commission spokesmen denied those allegations, saying the process was fair and even-handed.

Van Every said future raises for teachers will likely be contingent on savings in other areas, such as health care, and that he was not alarmed by Rumore's comments over the last several days.

"I understand that Phil is speaking on behalf of his membership," Van Every said. "Phil's a capable union leader, and he won't close any doors."

Robert G. Wilmers, chairman and president of M & T Bank and co-chairman of the commission, urged cooperation and restraint.

"I would hope that when everybody has a chance to read the report and analyze it, they will realize we have to work together to resolve the problem," he said.

Savings based on contract negotiations will be extremely difficult to achieve, according to Kevin Hardwick, director of urban studies at Canisius College.

"To the extent that teachers realize that their future and the future of the city are inextricably entwined, I think there is some possibility there," he said. "But that's easier said than done."

Hardwick said it might take an even deeper crisis -- such as the threat of a state takeover of city schools -- to spark extensive reform.

"The situation will probably have to get a lot worse before it gets better," he said. "I sense that we're not there yet. Maybe it's a year or two down the road."

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