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School budget OK'd; restores 50 jobs

The Buffalo School Board on Wednesday approved an $805.9 million budget for 2010-11, which was amended to restore nine assistant principal and 41 teacher's aide jobs proposed for elimination.

The budget passed by a vote of 8-1, with North District board member Catherine Nugent Panepinto voting no.

"Fifty employees have been reinstated, nine principals and 41 teacher's aides," said School Board President Ralph Hernandez, just before the vote.

"That's 50 families that are going to be very, very happy this budget is passed."

As a result of a poor fiscal outlook and an uncertain state budget, school system administrators were challenged to cut 300 jobs from the payroll, including 145 teaching positions and 100 school bus aides. Budget officials appropriated an additional $1 million from the system's reserves -- for a total of $16 million in reserve funds in the budget -- to avoid further cuts, a move that caused Park District board member Lou Petrucci to raise concern.

"It's just that, every time we reduce [the rainy day fund], it means that we're that much closer to depleting it, and then we're going to have to make very drastic cuts," Petrucci said.

However, East District board member Vivian Evans and at-large board member John Licata insisted that the expenditure allows the system to continue to maintain a quality level of services.

"The money is well spent now to put it in the schools to maintain what we've gained compared to worrying about rainy day funds for this year and the year after," Licata said.

Fifteen assistant principals had been slated for elimination before nine of the positions were restored, officials said.

Among other cuts, the amended budget calls for a $120,000 reduction in supplies, a $25,000 cut in contract services and a $14,000 reduction in the budget line for School Board member travel expenses.

A motion by Panepinto to cut the $54,000 travel budget line by $40,000 was rejected, 7-2, with only Panepinto and at-large board member Christopher Jacobs in support. Panepinto said a deeper cut in that line would have been a symbolic gesture at a time when a state budget has not been passed and the system is not paying a living wage to a significant portion of its employees.

However, Hernandez and others said a $40,000 annual expenditure for board member travel was not exorbitant in the context of an overall budget that exceeds $800 million. Licata and Ferry District board member Pamela Cahill contended that board members' travel to conventions provided value to the system.

"I think that it's penny wise and dollar foolish to not go to these, as long as when we're there we can bring back innovations and implement them in our district," Licata said.

Meanwhile, if the state increases its aid to the system, school officials said more teacher's aide jobs will be restored.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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