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School district scales back layoffs after money influx

When the year began, Niagara Falls School District officials were considering the elimination of up to 101 teaching jobs.

But as the 2007-08 school year approaches, that number has been pared down to 27 Niagara Falls Teachers Union members who will not return to the classroom in September.

Ten non-instructional jobs also have been cut.

The drop in anticipated layoffs occurred for two reasons: Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer gave the district about $3.5 million more in revenues for the upcoming school year than was anticipated, and the district pursued and received a three-year, $2.4 million federal Mathematics and Science Partnership Grant.

The grant -- which will provide $800,000 a year for three years -- will employ nine experienced science and mathematics teachers as coaches to show other teachers new techniques to help their students learn those subjects.

With the influx of money, the district ended up laying off seven tenured and provisional teachers and not renewing the contracts of 20 regular substitute teachers who are hired for one year at a time. "That's a heck of a lot better than laying off 36 tenured and probationary teachers and 65 substitutes," said Philip Mohr, district human resources director. He was referring to the district's worst-case scenario that surfaced several months ago, when School Superintendent Carmen A. Granto anticipated a $9 million-plus funding gap over the next few years.

Mohr said the current cutback of seven regular instructors consists of three health teachers, a technology teacher, an art teacher, a library-media specialist and an independent schoolroom monitor. He said they were let go as a result of middle school consolidation.

Last winter, the board voted to eliminate Niagara Middle School, keeping all sixth-graders at the elementary level. The two remaining middle schools -- Gaskill and LaSalle -- will become high school preparatory schools for seventh- and eighth-graders.

"Most of the [layoffs] were concentrated in the exploratory programs -- not involving core subjects like mathematics, science, English and social studies -- at the middle school level," Mohr said. "We had three middle schools. We closed one. We had no place to put [those teachers]."

The district also closed two elementary schools this year, 60th and 66th street schools, moving those pupils to Cataract Elementary School, a new school converted from Niagara Middle School. That didn't have a big impact on teacher layoffs, however, because the state stresses the new funding be used to increase pupils performance on state assessment tests.

The new money will allow the district to keep down class sizes, Granto said.

The hiring back of teachers was not just done for the sake of saving teaching positions, he added. He also said the district has not hesitated to eliminate positions -- instructional and non-instructional -- to match a decline in student enrollment.

"Three years ago 55 positions were cut. Last year, it was 65," Granto said.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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