ADVERTISEMENT

Plans to eliminate dozens of school psychologists, social workers and other student support staff from next year’s Buffalo schools budget were scrapped Wednesday in response to concerns from parents and school leaders.

The district also reversed course on controversial plans to end maintenance of the Johnnie B. Wiley stadium, which serves both student and community athletic needs.

The Buffalo school district has rolled out a preliminary $797 million base budget for next school year that would increase spending by $14 million despite the net elimination of more than 30 full-time jobs.

It was reviewed Wednesday by the district’s Finance Committee.

“It’s important to place a strong priority on services to students and staff in the classroom and supporting the teaching environment process,” said Superintendent Pamela Brown. “That is the core of all of our work.”

The initial 2013-14 budget proposal included plans to save $3.9 million by dramatically scaling back its student support teams, which are assigned to every school.

The teams include psychologists, social workers and counselors who were placed in each building in 2009-10 to assist troubled students, provide emotional and behavioral support, and ward off suspensions.

Cuts to 48 positions from this group were restored in the budget discussed with school board members on Wednesday.

Instead, Brown said she wants to conduct a comprehensive Special Education audit to find better ways to improve student achievement while containing costs.

The district also agreed to continue maintaining Johnnie B. Wiley stadium. The district will, however, cut back its maintenance costs from $100,000 to $61,000 by eliminating a maintenance position.

The restorations made to the budget on Wednesday created a new $4 million gap that will be closed in other ways, said Chief Financial Officer Barbara Smith.

Among them, the district hopes to save:

• About $2 million by consolidating or eliminating many classes with enrollments of fewer than 15 students.

• $720,000 by changing its elementary in-school suspension program from a half-day program at 19 elementary schools to a full-day program hubbed at five school sites.

• $500,000 by cutting 50 school bus aides through attrition. The reduced number of aides would be assigned to buses on a priority basis, she said. Finance Committee members raised some student safety concerns about this.

• About $300,000 by reducing the number of new administrators the superintendent had originally planned to hire as part of the central office reorganization process. Initially, Brown intended to add four new positions. The current budget proposal now adds only the deputy superintendent position.

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 70, School 8, WEB Early Childhood Center No. 71, School 77, and Early Childhood Center No. 78.

The district had originally planned to move Middle Early College High School from its current, leased building at 290 Main St., owned by developer and board member-elect Carl Paladino, to School 8.

Those plans have fallen by the wayside, at least for now. The district’s lease agreement with Paladino’s Ellicott Development expires in December.

Other positions slated to be cut from the budget include several central office positions, but many of those cuts will be offset by the hiring of more special education teachers and teacher aides.

Finally, the district will spend $31 million in reserves to close the remaining deficit.

Students are not expected to lose any athletic program offerings under the proposed budget.

Because the district has adopted a new school-based budgeting model, the 2013-14 budget proposal includes few, if any, districtwide cuts to academic programs. Instead, principals and other school-based administrators may be forced to make some tough decisions on their program offerings on an individual basis.

Smith, however, said that no school will receive less money than it received this year.

The $797 million budget does not include another $114 million the district receives in grant funding. Base budget funding comes 80 percent from the state, 9 percent from the city, 5 percent from sales tax revenue, and the remainder from other sources.

Much of the $14 million budget increase is attributed to rising health and pension costs and charter school tuition payments, Smith said.

The proposed budget still includes money for the expansion of some programs.

These include the creation of STAR Academy, a new program aimed at serving overage and under-credited students; the expansion of extended-day programs and related costs at low-performing schools; and the purchase of more textbooks so more high schoolers can take core-subject textbooks home.

The budget is slated for adoption on Wednesday.

email: stan@buffnews.com