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SCHOOL BOARD CUTS 557 JOBS <br> 433 TEACHERS AMONG LAYOFFS TO BEGIN DEC. 1

The Buffalo Board of Education voted Wednesday night to cut the jobs of 433 teachers and 124 other employees. The move will help eliminate the district's $28 million budget gap but will result in larger classes, far less help for struggling students and chaotic personnel changes at the city's 80 schools.

"It's devastating to say the least," Superintendent Marion Canedo said moments after the board vote. "This probably is the saddest day in Buffalo school history."

The first batch of layoff notices -- which will be based on seniority -- will be delivered around next Thursday and will be effective Dec. 1.

Anthony Palano, president of the union that represents principals and other administrators, said the cuts will cripple efforts to help students meet the state's academic standards and high school graduation requirements.

"We don't have the resources right now to meet the state standards," he said. "This will make it virtually impossible."

Because about 75 of the targeted jobs are currently vacant, about 482 employees will actually be laid off, said board President Paul G. Buchanan. The 433 teachers include not only classroom instructors, but also librarians, guidance counselors, attendance teachers, psychologists, social workers and others. The district has about 4,400 teachers.

The board also voted to lay off 60 teacher's aides, 18 central office administrators, six administrators at individual schools, 28 clerical workers and 12 employees in the district's plant division.

Layoffs account for $18 million in savings. The actions to close the budget gap also include a $5 million cut in nonpersonnel items, $1 million in fund transfers and nearly $4 million in additional anticipated grant revenue.

Jack Coyle was the only one of nine board members who voted against the cuts. He said after the meeting that he objected because the plan eliminates most extra assistance for six poorly performing Buffalo elementary schools that are under state review and because the layoffs focus too heavily on teachers rather than administrators.

"It wasn't equitable, to me," Coyle said. "That's all."

Buchanan said the cuts fell most heavily on teachers only because they make up the bulk of the district's work force. "It was across the board," he said. "No one area was targeted."

Buchanan also said he hopes the layoffs can be eliminated or reduced by additional funding from the state.

"We are hopeful this will not come to pass," he said. "We really are at the point where we couldn't wait any longer."

The budget cuts will eliminate many extracurricular activities but leave the district's interscholastic sports program intact.

"We feel it's very important to maintain programs that keep students engaged," Buchanan said.

Donald A. Van Every, chairman of the board's Finance Committee, estimated that as many as 300 classrooms will end up with new teachers. "The potential is hugely disruptive," he said.

Under teacher contract provisions, temporary teachers filling in for teachers on leave will be laid off first, said Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation. Nontenured probationary teachers would be the next to go, followed by tenured teachers with the least seniority.

The layoffs will result in widespread "bumping," in which teachers who are not laid off move from school to school to fill vacancies. Canedo estimated that some schools could have teacher turnover approaching 50 percent, while schools with veteran teachers could have very little change.

"This will go on all over the district," Canedo said. "It's going to be chaotic, and it's going to be difficult."

Palano said principals will be faced with maintaining a sense of stability and order amid widespread midyear change.

"The biggest challenge is to keep morale up and the programs operating," he said. "Teachers are going to see some of their friends leave and see their class sizes increase."

Van Every said that the district is considering making most of the high school teacher switches during the winter break in order to minimize disruption but that it will not be possible at most elementary schools.

The School Board gambled several months ago that the state would come up with additional funds to cover all or most of the $28 million gap, but the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks further weakened an already struggling state economy and virtually eliminated the prospect of huge increases in school aid.

Suburban school districts were not hurt nearly as badly, because they rely far less on the state for funding, and because many of them reacted conservatively and did not figure on additional money from Albany.

It now appears that Buffalo -- which gets more than 80 percent of its funding from the state -- will get some new money from Albany, but not enough to prevent widespread layoffs.

Palano said he feels the board acted wisely. "There just isn't any money," he said. "It's beyond the control of the board, the superintendent and the (state legislative) delegation. It's nobody's fault."

Canedo said that the first layoffs would take effect Dec. 1 and that the district will wait as long as it reasonably can before laying off teachers, in order to avoid disruption for students.

"All of a sudden they will be meeting a new teacher," she said.

The layoffs came a day after the state released test results showing the vast majority of Buffalo's eighth-graders last year failed to display proficiency on math and English assessment tests.

Canedo said the cuts will make it even tougher to reverse that trend. "All of the things we've worked so hard to turn around are going to be 1,000 percent more difficult to accomplish," she said.

But there was a growing sense of inevitability in the past few weeks that the layoffs could not be avoided.

During the meeting, board member Florence Johnson asked Buchanan in a whisper if it would be possible to delay action one more day to see what the State Legislature did at a session earlier Wednesday.

"I think we need to take the action that we talked about," Buchanan replied.

The 8-1 vote followed a lengthy closed-door executive session.

e-mail: psimon@buffnews.com

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