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Niagara Falls School Board balks at restoring summer camp

NIAGARA FALLS – The Niagara Falls School Board has put on hold a proposal to restore the district’s summer camp that had been cut from the budget for the upcoming school year.

Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco’s administration recommended the restoration after the district received additional state aid it had not anticipated, but the School Board tabled the proposal by a 5-3 vote on Thursday night.

It was the first time details emerged publicly on how the district may use the extra $838,000 in aid it will receive for the upcoming school year, which begins July 1.

Bianco also has proposed restoring six of the roughly 45 job cuts included in the spending plan approved by voters last month. She would not disclose what positions the restored jobs would be, nor in what bargaining unit the positions belong. She would only say the net cost to the district for restoring the six jobs would be $37,000.

Bianco did say information about the jobs would be known “probably quite soon.”

With the summer camp costing $145,000, Bianco said the remainder of the additional state aid, $656,000, would be put back into the district’s reserves, which otherwise would have been completely decimated in the latest spending plan.

The proposed restoration of summer camp was met with questions from board member Ron J. Barstys, who said that while he thinks the summer camp is a good program, he was concerned that the funding for the modified sports program wasn’t put back. The entire $50,000 budget for modified sports was cut in the budget.

“If we can’t afford the regular stuff during the school year, how can we afford to pay for extra things in the summertime?” Barstys said.

He also said he felt he did not have all the information he needed in order to vote.

Bianco countered by asserting the matter had been previously discussed in public and during an executive session on May 20, during which the details were provided. She said board members have known about the potential job cuts since February. She also said she had received no negative comments or any further inquiry since then.

Two union officials asked the board to table the measure.

Marcus Latham, head of Niagara Falls Teachers, and Michele Brocious, head of the teacher’s associates union, said that while there’s been talk for weeks about potential layoffs, the unions haven’t been told about what’s happening with job cuts.

“No one really knows what’s going on,” Latham said.

The district’s summer camp, which has operated for the past nine years, has been run by the Niagara Falls Housing Authority for the last six years, said Deputy Superintendent Mark R. Laurrie. It was run through an outside agency, Laurrie said, upon the insistence of the School Board and the agreement of the administration that employees of the camp should not be district employees.

The administration wanted the board’s approval Thursday because it said the district was already behind in trying to have the six-plus-week program running by July 7 or 8, Laurrie said.

The board members who voted to table the proposal were Barstys, Vincent A. “Jimmy” Cancemi, Art Jocoy Jr., Anthony F. Paretto and Robert M. Restaino.

Board President Russell J. Petrozzi, Vice President Nick S. Vilardo and Kevin A. Dobbs voted against tabling the proposal.

Board member Carm D. Rotella abstained from the vote. She serves on the Niagara Falls Housing Authority board of trustees.

Dobbs and Bianco also serve on the authority’s board. Dobbs said he did not abstain because the board’s vote on Thursday was not a final vote on the fate of the program.

The district’s approved 2015-16 budget would cut 20 teaching positions, 19 classroom associates, four support staff members, an administrator and the equivalent of 1.6 classified administration jobs.

Bianco said no district employees took the $10,000 retirement incentive offered in an attempt to lower payroll costs.