Niagara Falls Schools Superintendent Carmen A. Granto is talking tough about plans for the 2001-02 budget, saying 70 to 80 positions are expected to be cut across the board.
The Board of Education held its first budget meeting Thursday and learned that there is a revenue shortfall of $5.3 million that must be addressed in order to adopt a no-tax-increase budget of $115,176,309.
"This is a (firm) number. We will do the Albany dance again, but we are not expecting any windfalls. Wages are not the reason for the increase. Utilities, health benefits and compensation account for half of the raise -- things we have no control over," said Granto.
He told the board that December's gas bill -- usually $70,000 to $100,000 -- was $207,000, and noted that relief from utility costs was one of the things they will be discussing in Albany.
"Our philosophy is to cut last those things which affect the classrooms, but we still have a business to run. $115 million is enough to run a school. Nothing will be barred (from being cut); however, 88 percent of our budget is state-mandated programs that we have no control over. There will be a reduction in services, and will (the cuts) hurt? You'd better believe it," said Granto.
Hard-hit will be positions at the new high school. Granto said job guarantees from the merger of LaSalle and Niagara Falls high schools lasted only one year, and he expects eight to 10 positions to be automatically cut.
He noted that retirements would prevent layoffs but would not save the district any money because of a union policy of "terminal pay," which gives a one-time payout to teachers when they leave, which is the difference between the pay of an experienced teacher and a new teacher.
He said this pay averages around $37,000 per person. He showed board members the budget and said there was an $840,000 savings in hiring 27 new teachers, but terminal pay for these 27 retirees would be $1 million.
The board has set April 19 to adopt a budget, with a public hearing following on May 3 and the vote on May 15.
In another matter, the board discussed hiring an architect to draw up plans for demolition of the old Niagara Falls High School. Business Manager Roy W. Rogers said proposals have ranged from $25,000 to $95,000.
Granto said that because it had been approved at a prior meeting, an architect would be hired to begin drawing plans and a status report would be made on the hiring and plans at the Feb. 22 board meeting. He said they would like to award a demolition contract by March 30.
Board member Mark Zito commented on the SOS (Save Our School) group, which has spoken out against demolishing the building on Pine Avenue.
"They have $12,000 now. What is it going to take, 600 years for them to come up with our (purchase) price of $6 million? Why don't we just give them the building? Their plans don't have to make sense. Give them the building and see what they can do with it," said Zito.
He noted with anger that the city, specifically the mayor, and this group caused them to lose a deal, and now they have to borrow money to pay for the demolition. He and other board members asked Granto if city officials have said whether they wanted the school. Granto said there had been no response to letters sent by the school asking for a response by Feb. 5.
"We need to make it clear to the city that (if they take it over) they may have to knock it down or it could remain an eyesore on Pine Avenue for years. I'd like to have an official response from the mayor. We had a deal, and we lost out on the deal. Somebody blew it. I just want closure on this," Zito said.