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Buffalo School Board members send Cash back to do more work on budget

Buffalo School Board members Wednesday sent Superintendent Kriner Cash back to do more work on the proposed budget for 2016-17.

As of now, the district is looking at a preliminary spending plan of $855 million, up by about $29 million from the current year.

The working budget calls for using $11.9 million of the $52 million in savings that the district has available to balance the budget.

That sparked a debate during the Finance and Operations Committee meeting. Board member Larry Quinn argued against the district using its savings to balance the budget. Instead, he said, the district would be better off using the fund balance to settle the contract with the Buffalo Teachers Federation. If the district takes care of the teachers contract, he added, everything else will fall into place.

“Solve the core problem first,” Quinn said. “If you don’t do your basic stuff right first, you’re putting Band-Aids on a problem.” Quinn added, “We need to be aggressively getting our economic package out to the union. … Using $12 million in savings to balance the budget does not get class sizes to where we want to be.”

The nine-member board has agreed to lowering kindergarten and first-grade class sizes to about 18 to 20 students, which is a key component in Cash’s turnaround plans, called “New Education Bargain.” The new budget would include a $17.2 million “down payment” to phase in Cash’s plan, which also covers opportunities for extended learning, several new innovative high schools or high school programs and converting a number of the schools into “community schools” to provide more wraparound services and outside resources.

Another budget discussion focused on how resources are distributed to schools.

Board member Sharon M. Belton-Cottman said she is concerned that there is no formula for how teacher’s aides or assistants are distributed. The number of assistants and aides a school gets for the new year is based on what the school received the year before. It would make better sense, she said, to put extra resources in schools that have low attendance, high suspensions and low reading levels.

“The data is not being used to drive school-based budgets,” she said. “We have not used our own data to drive the budgets.”

The board directed Cash to make it a priority to make another attempt to negotiate a settlement with the BTF while leveraging some of the savings as a bargaining point. Cash and his staff also were directed to review school-based budgets again to identify more areas for possible cuts, including vendors.

The board plans to vote on a budget by the first week in June.