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Niagara Falls school budget certain to include some job cuts

NIAGARA FALLS – The city School Board on Thursday set the spending limit for next year’s budget at $133.6 million, though how many jobs may be cut still needs to be worked out.

Earlier this month, Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco presented four budget scenarios that would cut between 45 and 69 positions, including between 20 and 43 teaching jobs.

At the time, Bianco’s budget options were said to come with a proposed spending level of $136.2 million.

But on Thursday, school officials said the higher figure represented the total costs if the district carried forward everything from the current school year.

“That was moving everything that we do now forward to next year’s expenses and we didn’t want to have a $10 million increase in the budget,” Bianco said.

Development of the proposed budget has been hindered because the district has yet to receive aid figures from the state.

Still, Joe Giarrizzo, the district’s top finance official, said the $133.6 million figure is more in line with where the revenues are expected to be, as opposed to $136.2 million.

“We couldn’t afford that,” Giarrizzo said. “This is where we are from an affordability perspective.”

Under Bianco’s proposal, spending would increase by about $7.2 million, or 5.7 percent, over the current school year. The budget includes no increase in the tax levy and would wipe out the district’s remaining savings of $2.1 million.

The spending increase includes $4 million to $5 million in payments for the district’s capital improvements. That will be offset by an increase in state aid in the same amount next year, officials have said.

The district also faces a $2.5 million increase in retiree health insurance costs.

The budget does not include funding for the district to create a separate alternative school because it would have been a significant addition to the spending plan, said Deputy Superintendent Mark R. Laurrie.

The existing alternative program will continue another year, he said.

Even though there would be no tax levy increase, the district still would be exceeding the state’s tax cap at the current level, so at least 60 percent of voters will have to approve the spending plan in May.

Those previously announced potential job cuts include 19 teaching associate positions. A number of current associates who attended the meeting pleaded with the board to keep the jobs.

“I feel that we are totally, totally needed,” said Susan Martin. “We are an asset in schools. We are an extra pair of eyes, and I feel the teachers are greatly appreciative of all of us.”

Board members voted, 7-0, to approve the spending limit, a figure required to complete the state’s “property tax report card” that is shared with voters.

Some of the previously announced proposed cuts that remain as part of the spending plan include the district’s summer camp, $400,000 in computer purchases and $300,000 in special education classes at the Orleans Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Those students would receive services within the district.

School Board members, who in recent weeks have received outlines of projected revenue and spending for the 2015-16 academic year, told the crowd they face tough decisions regarding the budget.

The budget, along with the election of two board members, will come before the public for a vote on May 19.

If the budget fails to win at least 60 percent of the vote, the district would have the option of formulating another budget and putting that out to vote, or going with a contingency budget.

Under the contingency plan, the district would be required to cut about $200,000 and the tax levy would stay the same.