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SCHOOL DISTRICT MAY LAY OFF UP TO 35 TEACHERS

The Niagara Falls School District may lay off as many as 35 teachers next month to compensate for a $3.1 million shortfall in state aid.

School Superintendent Carmen A. Granto said Thursday the proposed layoffs are among 56 district jobs that the School Board will be asked to cut, including 13 teachers on special assignment, 13 classroom teachers and five reading teachers. Also on the layoff list are 18 maintenance workers and two office clerks.

It appears to be the latest local ripple stemming from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which have diverted state lawmakers' attention from adopting a supplemental budget.

"If they don't pass a supplemental budget, this is what we're stuck with," said Granto.

Meanwhile, the chances that more state aid will be forthcoming appear small. Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Niagara Falls, said the state's financial picture has changed radically since the Legislature approved an interim budget in August and promised to adopt a supplement to that plan in September.

"After Sept. 11, the state's finances were completely thrown into a tailspin, and we have yet to determine how much aid is going to available for the school districts," she said.

When the School Board adopted its $105 million budget for the 2001-02 school year in May, it had anticipated at least $65 million in state aid that was proposed in Pataki's budget. However, the Legislature has yet to adopt a final budget, and the baseline budget approved in August provided $62 million in state aid to the district.

In the interim, the district is now seeking an extension on a loan it received from the state to pay for its share of services at the Orleans-Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services. That would save the district $1.2 million, said Roy Rogers, school district administrator. He said the district also is seeking reinstatement of $1 million in aid to small-city school districts.

"These measure would allow us to restore some of the proposed cuts, but we would still need more aid from the state," Rogers said.

DelMonte said there is a chance the State Legislature will approve the loan deferment.

"The only way we can do the BOCES loan extension is through some budgetary process, and that most likely will come next week, provided all three leaders can come together," she said, referring to Gov. George E. Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

Meanwhile, the Niagara Falls Teachers Union is lobbying Pataki and state legislators for more funding, according to its president, Joseph Catalano, who said the cuts would hurt children.

"There's not much (School Superintendent A. Carmen Granto) can do. His hands are basically tied," Catalano said.

Moreover, he blamed state legislators for most of the fiscal mess now facing the state.

"If they had passed a budget on time in April, the way they were supposed to, we wouldn't have this problem. Instead they're wiping their hands of blame and putting it on the terrorists," Catalano said.

Granto said the efforts to support New York City following the terrorist attacks should not be the state's alone. It is a national tragedy, and the federal government should reimburse the state for the costs incurred, he said.

"We agree with the governor that this is a national tragedy. We're willing to do our part in supporting him in his effort to get more federal funds in the wake of what happened on Sept. 11, but the cost of that tragedy should not be borne by the children of New York State," said Granto.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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