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Falls School Board hears pleas to keep day care center open; Reducing staff is recommended

About 60 people attended Thursday's meeting of the city School Board to support nine speakers who urged the board to continue operation of its child care center next year in spite of a projected budget gap that appears likely to affect all operations of the school district.

One of the speakers, Mary Kay Reygers, suggested that enough money could be saved to keep the day care center open by reducing its staff and rescheduling the remaining employees. Reygers is a teacher and the mother of a child who attends the day care center.

Board President Russell J. Petrozzi said the board would consider her suggestion, as well as the comments of the other speakers. Closing the day care center would save the district about $300,000 as it faces a projected budget gap of $9 million in the next school year.

The center is intended mainly to care for the children of school employees, but it also is open to the public. If it is closed, the equivalent of 33 1/2 full-time jobs would be eliminated, and about 50 working families would have to find other day care facilities for their children.

Some of the speakers said they would be willing to pay more for their children's day care if the center remains open.

Michele Brocious, president of the Teacher Associates United Local of the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents workers in the day care center, suggested that the district was "top heavy" with highly paid administrators.

Other speakers said that the child care workers are among the district's lowest-paid employees and that the elimination of one administrative position could save enough money to keep several of them on the job.

The board took no immediate action on the issue because School Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco has yet to finalize her budget recommendations for the 2011-12 school year. She is to present those recommendations to the board during a special meeting at 7 p.m. April 7.

The recommended budget is expected to call for expenditures of about $121 million, compared with this year's budget of $126 million.

"No program will be eliminated in the new budget," she said. "The cuts will be spread throughout the district.

"This is a very difficult time for the district, and we are trying to make equitable cuts. It's a very bad situation; I hope it is temporary. It's hard to face what we need to face."

In an unrelated matter, Angelo Massaro reaffirmed his legal advice to the board that it was proper to hold a private executive session earlier this month. Massaro, the school district's attorney, said the closed meeting was acceptable because it was protected by an attorney-client privilege and because board members discussed the job status of specific individuals, which could be an invasion of their privacy.

The attorney said his remarks were in reply to an editorial in March 22 editions of The Buffalo News that said the private meeting was illegal because it violated the state's Open Meetings Law.

The editorial was based on a news article that quoted Robert J. Freeman as saying such meetings were against the law. Freeman, a lawyer who is executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government, is considered to be an expert on the Open Meetings Law.

Massaro said he disagreed with Freeman's opinion.

e-mail: rbaldwin@buffnews.com

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