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The sky isn't falling anymore

Remember when Buffalo Superintendent James A. Williams went on local TV news shows in October to threaten that more than 900 district employees could lose their jobs mid-year if the state did not reverse itself on increased payments to charter schools and payments for employee pensions?

James Williams To refresh your memory -- Barbara J. Smith, the district's CFO, then quickly set about trying to clarify that there was no way in the world the district could lay off 900 people in the middle of the year. The superintendent, she said, was just trying to illustrate what the functional equivalent was to a $22.8 million gap mid-year.

Then, in December, district conceded to the fact that the state did not seem likely to change its mind about payments to the charters, and Williams agreed to pay charters the higher amount, which he said would leave an $11.3 million hole in the district's budget and would require the district to submit a mid-year budget modification to the control board.

Well, it turns out no major catastrophe will befall the district -- even if neither the pension payments nor the charter payments are overturned in Albany. Smith told the board this week that even under those circumstances -- which officials had been predicting would leave a $22.8 million hole in the budget -- the district would end the year with a $10 million deficit.

"So in that worst case scenario, can we survive that hit without laying off?" Board President Ralph Hernandez asked.

"Yes," Smith said.

She said the district found money in its budget in various places (primarily: charter enrollment was lower than expected, meaning the district did not have to pay out as much in charter reimbursements, and the retirement incentive last summer saved more money than expected).

"We would just move the money from the lines that have the surpluses," Smith said. "We wouldn't have to increase the total budget."

- Mary Pasciak

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