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Cutting jobs of four clerks is questioned

The Niagara Falls School Board is considering the elimination of four account clerk positions in the district's business office as of April 1.

The proposal was made public last week, but the district Civil Service Employees Association has questioned the wisdom of the idea.

If the board approves, the cuts would chop district costs by about $240,000 a year in salaries and fringe benefits.

"This proposal is more for efficiencies to make us a little leaner and meaner going into the future," Finance Director Joseph A. Giarrizzo said.

He added the savings would help offset the $4.7 million deficit the district faces.

The matter became public when Jeffrey B. Pasquantino, president of the district's 320-member CSEA union, questioned the proposed layoffs. Those represented by the union include maintenance workers, secretaries and clerks.

Pasquantino said he was "uncomfortable" that a consultant the board hired made the recommendation.

"I would hope you researched it and found out if it was justified," he told the board. "I just want to make sure everything is adding up and nobody's getting worked here, so to speak, . . . that you're doing your job."

Pasquantino questioned eliminating such positions after a state audit lambasted the district last year over the way the board kept its financial records and operated its business office.

"Based on the recent financial audit, do you think it's wise [to cut positions] when we should actually be looking to add people on so to make sure we have our finances in order instead of taking people away?" Pasquantino asked.

Robert Kazeangin Jr., board president, said the recommendation came not only from a consultant but also from the district's staff. "The board is behind the decision that's being recommended," he said.

While the proposal is on the table, Giarrizzo said, "The cement hasn't solidified yet. We're not quite 100 percent sure we're going to do this. As Phil Mohr, our human resources director put it, 'We've poured the cement. We've smoothed it out. But it hasn't hardened yet.'

"I think what they want to do is let Mr. [William] Leardini [the district's newly hired interim business officer] look at the plan and provide his input and thoughts before we are sure that's the way we want to go. But we don't want to give anybody false hope. But even though we're over 99 percent sure we're going to do it, something could still change."

Leardini will come on board this week.

"This isn't being done to save money. It's being done for efficiency," Giarrizzo said.

He agreed that Pasquantino's question about cutting the business office staff after the criticism sounded logical, but said, "we'll be able to function better with the technology we have at our disposal now compared [with] last year."

A new computer program called Finance Manager features built-in checks and balances that the old system lacked, he said.

"Our financial information automatically goes into the system now and keeps records of the things that were cited lacking in the audit. So it would not be possible under the new program for things like that to happen again," Giarrizzo explained.

The new system, he said, will allow the district to reassign the account clerks' duties to other employees, making the business operation more efficient and effective as well as saving some money.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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