The Buffalo school district has rolled out a preliminary $797 million base budget for the next school year that would increase spending by $14 million despite a net loss of staff positions.
“We’re cutting staff to cut costs to pay for structural deficits that are beyond our control,” said Chief Financial Officer Barbara J. Smith.
The $797 million budget does not include another $114 million the district receives in grants. Altogether, the Buffalo Public Schools district is in the process of completing a $908 million spending plan for its anticipated fall enrollment of about 32,700 students.
District officials said the proposed budget is undergoing more revisions and updates. Though the district had announced preliminary plans to cut 50 positions overall, that number has since been reduced, Smith said.
Much of the reason for the $14 million budget increase is attributed to health and pension benefits for current and former employees, which are expected to grow by more than $13 million next school year, according to the district.
Superintendent Pamela Brown declined to comment on the budget.
Smith, however, said the district’s goal was to keep cuts as far away from the classroom as possible.
“We do believe we’ve done that with this budget,” Smith said.
Because the district has adopted a school-based budgeting model, the 2013-14 budget proposal includes few, if any, districtwide cuts to academic programs, Smith said. Instead, principals and other administrators will be forced to make tough decisions on program offerings on an individual basis.
As of last week, the district had outlined a series of cost-cutting measures that included the elimination of $100,000 to maintain the Johnnie B. Wiley stadium, which stands at the site of the former War Memorial Stadium and hosts both district and community athletic events.
Based on concerns raised by Buffalo Common Council members, however, Brown said last week that no final decision has yet been made regarding cuts to the stadium.
Other district cuts include the closure of six schools, many of them temporary “swing” schools used to house students while their home schools were being renovated as part of the district’s reconstruction plan.
Schools slated for closure include Poplar Academy No. 11, School No. 70, School No. 8, WEB ECC No. 71, School No. 77 and ECC No. 78.
The district also intends to scale back its student support teams, which are currently in every school, to a more centralized model. The teams, which include a psychologist, social worker and guidance counselor, were established back in 2009-10 to assist troubled students and ward off suspensions.
The district budget calls for cutting the equivalent of 48 full-time positions from this group for a savings of $3.9 million. Another $3.6 million in savings would come from “across the board” staff reductions in the central office.
Numerous other positions are slated to be cut from the budget, but many of those cuts will be offset by the hiring of more special education teachers and teacher aides over the last year, Smith said. There are no significant districtwide cuts to teaching positions, she added.
Students are not expected to lose any athletic program offerings in the preliminary budget, contrary to what has been previously reported, Smith said.
Though all department heads were asked to submit proposals to cut up to 18 percent of their budgets, she said, student athletics were spared from deep cutbacks.
The district budget intends to use $31 million from various reserve funds to help close what would otherwise be a $38.4 million deficit. The use of 17 percent of the district’s available reserve funds creates longer-term risks for the district overall, Smith said.
Finally, the preliminary budget includes money for the expansion of some programs. These include:
• The hiring of the 11 full-time staff for STAR Academy, a new program aimed at serving overage and under-credited students and English language learners;
• The expansion of extended-day programs and related transportation costs, which will provide more learning time for students at low-performing schools;
• The purchase of more core-subject textbooks, so that more high schoolers can take their textbooks home instead of being forced to share them and leave them at school.