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City school construction measure OK’d

The Joint Schools Construction Board approved a refinancing deal Monday that is expected to save the Buffalo Public Schools $27 million over four years, beginning in 2017. The savings would be earmarked for future school construction, renovation and repair-related costs

Contentious discussion preceded the approval of the $281 million debt refinancing, which stemmed from bonds sold in 2007 and 2008.

Construction Board and School Board member Carl P. Paladino asked for a detailed summary of expenses associated with the refinancing deal before he would vote for the deal. He said that he was troubled at the high number of law firms being paid as part of the deal and that it was wrong to ask the construction board for approval of such a refinancing when no one at the table could provide a summary or estimate of overall costs associated with this agreement.

“We don’t know what the costs are,” he said. “We don’t know what the motivations are.”

Clearly frustrated, City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder pointed out that Paladino had already learned about this deal at the School Board’s Finance and Operations Committee meeting two weeks ago and approved the agreement at last week’s School Board meeting, when apparently no significant questions were raised about the matter.

“When I was in the New York State Assembly, I didn’t vote on anything I didn’t read,” Schroeder said.

The refinancing deal required approval from the School Board, the Joint Schools Construction Board and the Erie County Industrial Development Agency. Schroeder said that the deal required timely action by the board and that only Paladino expressed a desire to reconvene a special meeting on the matter.

In the absence of a gavel, Mayor Byron W. Brown, the board’s co-chairman, repeatedly rapped his knuckles against the conference room table in an effort to control the back-and-forth discussion. Construction Board and School Board member Larry Quinn recommended compromise and attempted to referee between Paladino and Schroeder, though he also had concerns.

Ultimately, the board agreed to approve the refinancing deal on the promise from Schroeder that he would follow up and provide all requested information to Paladino, Quinn and the rest of the board as quickly as possible. The matter passed, 4-1, with Brown, Quinn, Schroeder and interim Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie voting in favor, and Paladino voting against.