Mayor Masiello and two key state legislators Friday criticized a proposed Buffalo Public Schools budget for putting almost all of a $30 million increase toward teacher salaries rather than classroom initiatives.
Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, a Buffalo Democrat, said: "If I'm going to push for an additional $30 million, a decent part of that damn well better get to the classroom. I'm disgusted, and I'm a parent with two kids in the system."
Masiello said Superintendent James Harris Thursday asked him for an extension of the Feb. 12 deadline for filing a budget request. But he said Harris failed to tell him that a tentative $455 million budget proposal -- up 6.8 percent -- would be unveiled at a public meeting Thursday.
"They go and negotiate these contracts and then say (to the city and state): 'This is what you're going to have to pay,' " Masiello said. "This stuff has got to stop."
State Sen. Dale M. Volker joined the chorus of criticism, saying the city schools -- which already receive about 75 percent of their funding from the state -- seem to be taking too much for granted.
"It almost looks as if the school district is saying: 'Give us all this money and everything will be fine. If you don't give us all the money, don't blame us,' " Volker said.
"I guess that kind of gets them off the hook, but the numbers are so unrealistic," he said. "This is the real world, and you can't spend your way out of every problem."
School officials Thursday outlined a tentative $455.8 million budget that would maintain present programs, but create no additional ones to help students meet tough new state standards.
Instead, the nearly $30 million increase would cover existing contractual obligations -- mainly salary, step increases and fringe benefits for existing staff, and termination pay for about 200 teachers expected to retire. In addition, Harris proposes two additional funding packages he hopes to include in his budget either this year or within the next three years.
Along with this year's basic $30 million hike, those proposals would raise the budget by $104 million, or 24 percent, over the current figure of $426 million.
A $44 million second segment would fund 12 new high school reading teachers, 28 high school math teachers, 4.5 guidance counselors and 2.5 attendance teachers, a principal and clerk for the Northwest Academy now under construction, a new elementary magnet school, a program for teen parents and pregnant students, and $550,000 in staff development.
In a proposed $30.8 million third segment, 135 techers would be hired to restore elementary school instruction in art, music and physical education.
"What we eventually end up with will depend on our level of resources from the state and the city," Harris said.
Hoyt said the local state delegation will not let Buffalo students suffer because of "the ineptitude of the administration," but that it is both unrealistic and undesirable for the city schools to receive all the money they are seeking.
"I wouldn't have the level of confidence in the administration to give them that much at once," he said.
Masiello said the schools -- which cannot levy taxes -- put both the city and the state in the position of either funding what he considers bloated contracts, or being blamed for cutbacks needed to cover those costs.
"The city doesn't have that kind of money right now," said Masiello, who is seeking a greater role in school governance. "What's at stake is quality in the classroom."
The Buffalo schools failed to meet filing deadlines for $8.9 million in state aid, and that reimbursement could be delayed for five years or more. Both Hoyt and Volker said that makes it much harder to secure additional state aid.
"I'm not fighting for the Buffalo schools until I am shown that there is a genuine commitment and desire to assure that these ineptitudes come to a screeching halt," Hoyt said.
"It's time for school officials to show some leadership and say: 'We recognize we have problems, we're embarrassed by them and we're going to do everything we can to correct them.' "
Hoyt and Assemblyman Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, earlier this week asked state education officials to review the methods used by city school officials to process applications for state aid, and are seeking to speed up payment of the $8.9 million.
Andy Maddigan, a school district spokesman, said the multiyear planning unveiled Thursday is designed to foster better long-range planning.
"We're saying that if we get more, this is what we plan to do," he said. "And if we get more than that, this is what we then plan to do. I think it represents a vast improvement over what we've done in the past."
Maddigan said the proposed budget, which will be submitted to Masiello on Feb. 12, will be refined following comment from the public and elected officials.
The spending plan will be discussed at School Board meetings 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and Feb. 10 at City Hall, and at a work session at 5 p.m. Feb. 3. The budget process will be the focus of a parent forum from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 6 in Buffalo Traditional School, 450 Masten Ave.