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The East Aurora School District is casting a wide net, hoping to encourage teachers and other employees to retire.

The hope is that the incentive will help cushion a nearly $950,000 budget gap projected for the 2013-14 school year.

The School Board last week gave Superintendent Brian D. Russ permission to offer the districtwide employee retirement incentive. The district, which has 305 employees, is offering staff 35 percent of their total unused sick days multiplied by their per diem.

It essentially is the same incentive the district has offered for the past three years.

“We don’t know who wants it and who is eligible. All we’re doing is offering and then we’ll verify if they meet the criteria,” School Business Manager Paul Blowers said. “Last year, we didn’t have that much interest.”

The district plans to tap an existing $1.1 million reserve earmarked for retirement incentives to fund the offer. Two teachers took the offer last year.

If five district teachers decided to retire, the district could probably save about $200,000. There is no targeted amount, but district officials are hopeful that some staff will carefully weigh the offer.

“This is a no-brainer. We need to get as many people as possible to take it,” board member Stephen Zagrobelny said during the board’s discussion of the proposal.

Board President Daniel Brunson said he favored the incentive offer, but at the same time said he doesn’t want to see the district lose “experienced people.”

“I don’t think it’s the only solution, but we’re between a rock and a hard place,” Brunson said. “It is a bit of a gamble.”

But most board members, with the exception of Eric Sweet, said the district had no choice but to try offering an incentive. Blowers said that those interested in taking it must notify the administration by Jan. 4.

The incentive offer is more than is provided in contracts covering teachers and other employees. Under the district’s current contract with its teachers, 15 percent of unused sick days are used to calculate a retirement incentive. The same holds true for the contract covering civil service employees. The administrators’ contract calls for 22 percent of unused sick leave.

“I’d rather know early [who is taking it], than have to discuss cutting a program,” Brunson said, noting there have been three consecutive years of budget gaps. “To me, it seems a much more reasonable, practical approach.”

Sweet was opposed to offering a new incentive. “We have to break this trend and let the current incentive in the contract be the incentive,” he said. “We need to do an analysis and see the impact.”

But Board Vice President Kathy Ann Lorka said that won’t be known until an incentive offer is on the table. “You don’t know until you see who you offer it to and see who takes it,” Lorka said.

But Brunson noted that even if two teachers retire, there could be an $80,000 to $90,000 savings. “That could apply to this budget gap and that is substantial,” he said.

email: krobinson@buffnews.com