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Socked with a surprise shortfall of about $2 million tied to the troubled economy, the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School Board on Monday approved a number of emergency measures to cut costs this year.

Included were shifting specialty teachers to regular classrooms and cutting back on spending for conferences and equipment.

"I think everyone is going to have to hurt a little bit," board member Alan MacGamwell said during a special board session to address the funding gap. "We're in a new world, and I think we need to make adjustments."

School Superintendent Steven Achramovitch warned that the cuts might be just the first -- and least painful -- if the state does not provide more funding or the economy continues to worsen and no bailout money is found.

"We're not saying this is over, by any means," Achramovitch said.

Alan Getter, assistant superintendent for finance, pointed out that the first round of cuts would not close the estimated $2 million gap. "It's a starting point," he said.

He also said the $2 million shortfall is only a preliminary estimate and could change for better or worse, depending on how the economy fares.

Like districts across the state, Ken-Ton was expecting to get a second round of state aid to supplement the funding from the baseline budget approved by Albany earlier in the year. Now, since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the issue of whether more aid will come is uncertain.

But the news was worse than that Monday. Because of the slump in the stock market, school districts are now being told that they will need to increase their contribution to retirees, a move that could cost Ken-Ton $1 million more than was expected.

Interest income also is dropping sharply, which will cost the district about $500,000, Getter said. Income from the sales tax is also dropping. An early estimate of the damage from that is about $500,000, he said.

The cost-saving measures approved unanimously by the board include:

Freezing purchase of new equipment, except in cases where health or safety issues are involved. An estimate of how much the move will save was not immediately available. However, Getter said most schools have already spent about 85 percent of their equipment budgets.

Freezing conference expenses. This includes ending national conferences for all staff for the rest of the school year and limiting the number of in-state conferences and the number of employees who attend them. The move will save on the cost of hiring substitutes to cover for teachers attending conferences.

Shifting specialty teachers, such as those for Everyday Math or English Language Arts, to regular classrooms if needed to fill in for teachers who are on extended leaves of absence. Achramovitch said the shift would save $60,000 to $150,000 or more in the cost of hiring substitute teachers.

Analyzing whether vacancies need to be filled and combining programs when possible.

The only measure not approved by the board Monday was elimination of a science camp for gifted middle school pupils. Although the board has placed a moratorium on out-of-town field trips because of safety concerns, it decided to give the camp special consideration during the Nov. 13 meeting.


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