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Niagara Falls School District eyes ways to close $6.5 million budget gap

NIAGARA FALLS – The public and School Board members on Thursday night will hear the city school district’s options on how to handle a $6.5 million gap in next year’s budget.

Cuts to personnel and other expenses are on the table since the district will not be allowed to increase the overall tax levy because of restrictions related to the state’s tax cap.

School Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco is expected to present four scenarios for dealing with a difficult financial situation to the School Board when it meets at 7 p.m. in the district’s administration building, 630 66th St.

Bianco already has proposed using $2 million from the district’s savings to bridge part of the gap, but that still leaves about $4.5 million to be made up.

Because personnel costs make up the largest portion of the district’s expenses, Bianco said some cuts to staff are likely coming.

“We’re a people organization,” she said. “That’s where our expenses are,” adding that cuts will come from other areas, as well.

In recent years, staff cuts were achieved mostly through attrition. While the most savings come when positions are not replaced, “we can’t do that in all circumstances,” Bianco said. “If we need so many kindergarten teachers, we need so many kindergarten teachers,” she said.

Increases to salaries and health insurance costs account for the biggest individual parts of increases in expenditures.

At a special meeting scheduled for April 1, Bianco will recommend to the School Board one of the four budget scenarios as a course of action.

Initial projections from Bianco’s administration peg spending levels for the 2014-15 school year at $129.7 million, up from $124 million in the current budget year.

On Thursday, a board review session will precede the regular board meeting at 5:30 p.m.

When asked if residents should be concerned about what changes the budget may bring about, Bianco replied, “I absolutely think the public should be worried.”