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RULING'S IMPACT SEEN AS LESS THAN $1 MILLION A YEAR

The ruling by the state's highest court boosting the pensions of some teachers will not have an immediate dramatic impact on Buffalo school finances, officials said Friday.

The district's liability could be less than the projected $6 million to $9 million. Regardless of the amount, the district can spread the payments over five or 10 years, Assistant Corporation Counsel Patricia Pancoe said Friday, after studying the Court of Appeals decision.

That means the hit on the district's $400 million-plus budget could be less than $1 million per year.

That impact is likely to be further blunted by anticipated reductions in the amount of money the district will contribute to the teachers' retirement fund because pension investments have fared so well on Wall Street, said James Kane, special assistant to the superintendent.

"We're very disappointed by the court ruling because the burden of proof was strictly on the district," Kane said. "The burden should be softened by the reduction for at least next year in the contribution the district makes to the teacher retirement system."

There was initial concern among city officials Thursday over the impact of the court ruling because the district's budget for this year does not set aside any money in its contingency fund for unanticipated expenses, such as the court ruling.

The ruling by the state Court of Appeals sets a statewide precedent for hundreds, possibly thousands, of teachers who have filed claims alleging they were wrongly delayed from joining the teacher retirement system.

About 150 such claims involving Buffalo schools have been filed, in which teachers contend the district failed to inform them as part-time or substitute teachers that they were entitled to sign up for the retirement system.

Teachers who eventually prevail are expected to garner $40,000 to $60,000 each. Ms. Pancoe said a number of the 150 claims have been put on hold, pending the court ruling. Those cases will start moving forward.

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