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District may lose $2.4 million in grants

After pulling in more than $20 million in grant money in each of the past five years, city school officials are projecting that figure could drop to $17.6 million in 2006-07.

Nicholas E. Marchelos, district support services director, told the Niagara Falls School Board on Thursday that there is a potential $2.4 million drop in federal, state and local grants this year.

The funding decline could result in a number of staff layoffs. School Superintendent Carmen A. Granto said he will present that information at next Thursday's budget deliberations.

Many of the cuts are due to an apparent reduction in federal spending on education, he said. About $500,000 in grant money to the district was slashed in President Bush's proposed federal budget. Another $1.5 million in cuts is from grants due to end this year.

No other programs have been set up so far to help replace the services the grants provided for children with various problems, officials said. Marchelos, however, said things can still change.

Part of the possible reductions involve reducing one federal grant by 44 percent. That includes $270,000 used to help fund district technology programs.

"We aren't absolutely sure, but we were told by Albany to expect this kind of cut," Marchelos said.

He said the cutbacks also involve $250,000 in Title I grant money from a program that pays for math and English language arts coaches to help students having problems in those subjects meet the mandates of the president's No Child Left Behind law. There would be layoffs, though he couldn't predict how many.

Another $1.5 million in cuts would result in the elimination of nine guidance counselors.

Marchelos said the guidance counselors help identify children with problems, get them help and up to speed in things like English and mathematics.

Granto said unless more money comes in "we'll have layoffs. We have 30 guidance counselors, and we may only have 21 next year."

Granto noted a paradox, comparing Bush's budget to the president's call for boosting the sciences in his recent State of the Union message.

"It's ironic he called for increasing student performance in the sciences because what he wants to cut [from this school district] is money for science and technology programs," and English as well, a main focus of No Child Left Behind, Granto said.

Board Member Mark Zito said there will be a lot of discussion with Congress and the appropriations committees over the president's proposed budget. He said things could change.

"That really makes me feel good," Granto said with a laugh as Board Member Carmelette Rotella added she didn't feel that was likely with Republican majorities in the legislative branch of government.

Marchelos said the district is applying for several other grants. Grant money is funding over and above the regular school budget that residents vote on, and which is mostly funded with state aid and property tax dollars.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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