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Editorial: Buffalo schools in the black

Good news for the Buffalo Public Schools landed in the form of a $12 million surplus at the end of its fiscal year in June thanks to unanticipated revenue, but that bonus should not distract board members from the need for strong fiscal management, especially as teacher contract negotiations begin.

The “surprise” package of funds included $10.2 million from the state for building aid and career education, $2.4 million in Medicaid revenues and $2.8 million from the state to handle costs of unanticipated students who were displaced by hurricanes in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico.

With those one-shots, and a conservatively drawn budget, district officials worked their way to a real surplus. It is a contrast to past years.

For example, district officials had projected taking $22 million from its fund balance to cover expenses. But they didn’t need the money, meaning the total swing in the district’s fortunes came to $34 million. In fact, the district’s financial plan projects a balanced budget starting in two years. It will not rely on any fund balance.

Superintendent Kriner Cash and his administration should be credited for a job well done. The district’s chief financial officer, Geoffrey Pritchard attributed the outcome to conservative budgeting and spending.

There was also some good luck. Health insurance did not increase as much as anticipated, and costs for occupational and physical therapy came in under budget, as did projected payouts for teacher retirements. It was a good year, bolstered by the end-of-school-year windfall.

Nevertheless, the pressures continue. The current teachers contract is in its final year. Their union will press for the maximum when negotiations begin. Taxpayers have to hope the administration learned from the widely criticized – and not at all conservative – teachers contact it signed in 2016. For certain, the district shouldn’t count on more one-shot revenues to cover those expenses.

The district deserves a hand for settling other contracts – administrators, substitute teachers, food service employees and bus aides – but the teachers contract is especially expensive. Teachers, many of whom spend their own money on student supplies, should not be shortchanged. But neither should taxpayers.

The district did a good job with budgeting last year and as a bonus, received millions in one-shot revenues. It needs to use those funds wisely to ensure that public costs are remain under control as the district heads into contract negotiations and a new budget cycle.

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