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Falls schools plan to trim up to 33 positions

NIAGARA FALLS – The city School District will have to cut between 14 and 33 jobs to help balance next year's budget, under proposals unveiled Thursday night by Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco.

Depending on how much state aid the district will receive, which has yet to be finalized in the state's budget process, district administration officials foresee various spending and personnel cuts, including between 10 and 15 teachers.

With the district's chief financial official saying the district has “hit a wall,” the administration is proposing the use of many “one-time revenues” to balance a budget of between $124.7 million and $125.8 million.

Without a supermajority vote of the School Board, the district can't raise the tax levy for the 2014-15 school year because of the state's property tax cap.

Facing financial difficulties like many other school districts across the state, Bianco and School Board members expressly laid the blame at the feet of elected state officials who they said are failing to meet obligations to the education needs in the state's poor, small cities.

Bianco called it “an unfortunate situation,” one from which she sees no relief coming, not to mention the financial impact to the district that may occur if a local charter school application is approved.

“We'll just go to Albany and say here are the keys because it's ridiculous,” Bianco said.

Bianco presented four budget scenarios, differing based on the amount of state aid the district receives.

Under the most dire scenario envisioned, positions to be cut would be: 15 teachers, one administrator and the full-time equivalent of about 17 support staff.

That situation is based on an increase of only $200,000 in state aid from what was recommended by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

If the district got an additional $1.15 million, job cuts would only be 10 teachers and four support staff, under Bianco's proposals. That scenario was deemed unlikely by district officials, who say they have not made a final decision on whether to offer a retirement incentive in order to shrink staffing levels.

Among the other proposed budget cuts, the district would impose a 10-percent, across-the-board cut in supplies and materials, accounting for about $252,000 in savings; eliminating a summer camp program ($150,000); put off $250,000 in small capital projects; and delay about $220,000 in computer equipment purchases.

Other features of the budget would reduce or eliminate modified sports, use $500,000 from a reserve account for workers' compensation, reduce anticipated benefits expenditures by $200,000 and reallocate $250,000 left over from a grant.

Each of Bianco's budget proposals calls for the use of $2 million in savings, which would leave only $500,000 left in unrestricted reserves.

Total state aid is projected to be about $91 million, but officials expect the state Legislature to increase aid beyond the amount that Cuomo initially offered.

Board President Russell J. Petrozzi said he expected the state to come through with additional financial help for school districts.

“They let us down in a big way,” Petrozzi said.

Bianco will recommend a specific spending plan to the School Board during a special meeting Tuesday.

Visit The Brink to see the four-page document outlining each budget scenario.