The Buffalo School Board quietly approved an $806.6 million general fund budget Wednesday that will increase staffing across the district by 77 full-time employees next school year.
That increase includes 24 additional full-time teachers and boosts staffing for physical education teachers and after-school programs, which were criticized as being underfunded this year.
The district made no sweeping cuts to any programs. Chief Financial Officer Barbara Smith said she hopes to have school-by-school staffing breakdowns within the next few weeks. “Overall, it’s a good budget,” Smith said. “Cuts and reductions were limited to right-sizing, and we expanded the transparency this year with additional board workshops, public presentations.”
The 2014-15 general fund budget increases spending by $12.6 million, or 1.6 percent. The board also approved a $115 million grants budget that also pays for district programs.
Without looking at the printed agenda, it would have been nearly impossible for anyone at Wednesday night’s meeting to know that the budget was up for a vote. No one commented on it, and it was not separated from a consent agenda that included more than 50 other items.
Six board members approved the consent agenda in a single vote. Three others – Carl Paladino, Florence Johnson and Sharon Belton-Cottman – were absent from the meeting.
Superintendent Pamela Brown said after the meeting that the district made it a priority to keep cuts “as far away from the classroom as possible” and did a good job communicating through a “transparent process.”
The proposed 2014-15 budget is balanced with the assistance of $30.9 million in additional state aid, much more than originally anticipated. That increase made for a relatively painless budget process this year, but targeted cuts were made to special education.
Although the board approved the 70-page budget document, detailed staffing numbers are still not complete because three schools have still not submitted their staffing plans for next school year – East, McKinley and Lafayette high schools.
Another three schools submitted their staffing plans too late to be included in the budget document the board approved Wednesday. The adopted budget also does not include an additional $400,000 from the city to continue maintaining school instrumental music programs.
Between the district’s targeted allocation of funding for music/art positions and the late announcement of more money from the city, the number of instrumental music teachers districtwide is expected to grow by at least two positions, Smith said. Those additional positions are difficult to find in the budget book because they are listed in two different places.
The proposed budget was supposed to include a special buyout incentive for all teachers eligible for retirement, but it was withdrawn because the Buffalo Teachers Federation did not agree to it.
Some other budget highlights:
• The district will spend $10 million in reserves to close the budget gap, though that amount is $21 million less than what was allocated for the current school year.
• Through the school-based budgeting process, school principals have elected to spend more of their discretionary money on hiring 25 additional building-level administrators. That grew the budget by $2.3 million.
• Because of the difficulty the district has faced in hiring certified teaching assistants, the district is reducing 53 teaching assistant positions, and instead increasing the number of full-time teacher aides by 82.
• The central office staff would be reduced by eight positions, for an overall savings of about $670,000, Smith said. The district would add one nonunion administrative position, a claims auditor.
The central office budget also assumes the permanent hiring of a new deputy superintendent at a salary of $175,000.
• The district assumes an $2.3 million increase in costs related to the settlement of Buffalo Teachers Federation grievances because this expenditure has exceeded its budget in each of the last two years.
• The single, largest savings would come from cutting $7.4 million in special education by restructuring the way special needs students receive teaching assistance when they are integrated into general education classrooms.
Under the new plan, the district will have special education teachers co-teach no fewer than five special-needs students when they are mainstreamed in general education classrooms.
Special education children in kindergarten through sixth grades who are placed in general education classrooms would also receive co-teaching assistance in the subjects of English and math only, she said.
• Budgeted program increases include the addition of $3 million to support after school programs in more schools, and a $200,000 increase to add staff and software to expand elementary physical education programs. More money was also allocated to improve classroom curriculum materials, Brown said.
For a full breakdown of Wednesday’s board meeting and a link to the 2014-15 budget, visit the School Zone blog at www.buffalonews.com/schoolzone