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Kriner Cash seeks $40 million from state for Buffalo school reforms

The Buffalo School superintendent is seeking an additional $40 million in state aid to fund his reform agenda. Superintendent Kriner Cash spoke Wednesday before a joint budget panel of the State Senate and Assembly in Albany, where he outlined his six educational priorities for the district, including more rigorous early elementary education and extended learning time for students.

Some of the additional aid would be used for more teachers to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grades and provide enhanced math and reading support to those students.

The extra money also would be used for extended learning during the school year and into the summer, as well as funding strategies to tackle chronic absenteeism in the district.

Cash indicated the extra funding could be dispersed over three years while the district implements the changes.

“We’re not going to have all of this done by September,” Cash told The Buffalo News prior to Wednesday’s hearings. “Certainly, over the next three years, we’ll have most of it well on its way – if not completed.”

The district is looking at a $17 million deficit for next year, driven in part by increases in salaries and employee health insurance.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is proposing an $18.9 million increase in state aid for Buffalo’s schools. That includes $9.2 million in aid for basic operations and $12.5 million for establishing community schools. All other aid categories decreased a total of $2.8 million.

Cash’s appeal for an additional $40 million coincides with the public rollout of his vision for improving the school system.

His six-point plan, which he dubbed the “New Educational Bargain,” also calls for creating strong “community schools,” establishing new innovative high schools, providing services for the district’s neediest children and families, and improving the combative relationship with district teachers.

The superintendent, who was making his first trip to Albany during the budget process, met individually with local state delegates the day prior to discuss his plan and ask for their support.

“It was a very, very positive meeting,” said State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo. “I think he brings a new, fresh vision to Buffalo city schools and has brought with him a sense of stability.”

As for Cash’s reform agenda, Kennedy liked what he heard.

“It can be transformative in the community if done appropriately – and that means funding it to the level it should be funded,” Kennedy said.

Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, also said his meeting with Cash was productive and called the superintendent’s “New Educational Bargain” a “very basic, sound plan.”

Now, Ryan said, it’s the job of the region’s state delegates to provide the funding the district needs.

“But it’s the district’s job to make sure they’re spending that money efficiently,” Ryan said.

That hasn’t always been done in the past, Ryan said.

Besides asking for the additional $40 million, Cash appealed to the lawmakers for increases in:

• Per-pupil funding for Universal Pre-K. The district has absorbed $5 million for those costs, money which otherwise could be redirected if the program was self-supporting.

• Health services funding by $2 million. Cash pointed to increased costs and requests from charter schools to provide nursing services. The proposed increase would raise funding for the district to $7.3 million, up from $5.3 million.

• Funding for receivership schools. Funding was allocated for the first round of receivership schools – those five in Buffalo considered “persistently struggling” – but the other 20 labeled “struggling” in Buffalo have received no additional funds to support new programming or provide professional development for teachers.