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District efforts aim to avert layoffs

The Tonawanda City School District cut 35 teaching positions during its budget crisis last year, but now Superintendent Whitney Vantine says he hopes a pair of efforts will help to avoid layoffs in the coming school year.

Vantine laid out his plan to the School Board and community representatives Tuesday night during a public meeting.

"I'm very hesitant to talk about staffing," Vantine said. "We have time. I talked to the board about possibilities. It would be premature to start talking about it."

When asked if he can't rule out staffing cuts altogether, Vantine said, "There's potential, but right now, it's at the back of our hoped-for outcomes."

The district is offering a new retirement incentive for employees who have more than 20 years of experience and are at least 55 years old.

It also is talking to Tonawanda unions about some contractual givebacks in exchange for future considerations.

If both efforts succeed, the savings would go a long way toward closing a projected $425,000 budget gap next year.

If district employees take up the retirement incentive, Vantine said, most of those positions would be retained, but some would be lost to attrition.

"We don't have a fixed number in our head, but we are hearing positives," the superintendent said. "We're very happy about that. One of the things we continue to impress upon people is that no one should be forced to retire. It's an individual question."

District officials are also talking with union representatives about givebacks, and Vantine mentioned one -- a wage deferral plan that would extend a few years into the future. The superintendent did not name which of the district's four unions might favor the givebacks.

"It would help save a tremendous amount of funds," Vantine said. "I'm pleased and guardedly optimistic that we'll have two [unions], maybe more, step forward to work with the district."

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