The proposed 2014-15 budget for the Buffalo Public Schools would add teachers and building-level administrators, make cuts to special education and boost physical education and after-school staffing.
Thanks to a hefty infusion of state money this year, the budget proposal does not appear to seriously hurt many academic or extracurricular programs for the next school year, though it is still a little early to tell.
District administrators are proposing a $806.6 million general fund budget that would increase spending by $12.6 million, or 1.6 percent. That excludes $115 million in program costs that would be covered by state and federal grants for the next school year.
The budget plan is balanced with the help of $30.9 million in additional state aid, much more than anticipated. That infusion, coupled with cost savings, helped wipe out what had been projected to be a $50 million deficit.
The proposed budget assumes that the city’s current $70.3 million contribution will remain constant.
“It’s a good budget,” said Chief Financial Officer Barbara J. Smith. “Reductions were made to right-size, which is what we should be doing. But there is no doubt the state bailed us out this year.”
The budget plan appears to make no sweeping program cuts, but principals at more than half the schools have failed to turn in budget staffing plans despite an earlier April 1 deadline this year to do so. Without that information, many staffing figures, are incomplete, Smith said.
The proposed budget assumes savings from a special buyout incentive offered to all teachers eligible for retirement. Despite earlier indications, however, the proposal also leaves the cosmetic rider for teachers and administrators in place. The district also would use $10 million in reserves to close the budget gap, which is $21 million less than was allocated for this year.
Among details of the plan:
• An additional 25 full-time teachers would be hired at a cost of $1.6 million.
• Through the school-based budgeting process, principals have elected to spend more of their discretionary money to hire 22 additional building-level administrators, at a cost of $2.1 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 78, for a net cost of $715,000. Aides do not require teaching certification.
• A retirement incentive would give teachers a one-time $5,000 bonus for retiring and withdrawing from the district’s health insurance coverage. Those who take the incentive also would receive annual payouts until age 65 to cover health insurance purchased through health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.
The district would see a net savings of $40,000 per teacher next school year, assuming that a retired teacher is still replaced, Smith said.
• 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, which is the prorated salary Interim Deputy Superintendent Mary E. Guinn currently receives.
The plan also includes $217,500 for Superintendent Pamela C. Brown’s salary.
• The district has allocated $2.3 million more for grievances, as well as costs related to replacement hires for staff on sick leave.
• The single, largest savings would come from cutting $7.4 million from special education by restructuring the way special-needs students receive teaching assistance when they are integrated in 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 classrooms. Currently, many special-ed teachers co-teach only one or two children in a class.
Special-ed students in kindergarten through sixth grade in general classrooms would also receive co-teaching assistance in English and math only, she said, instead of a variety of subjects.
Reflecting Brown’s priorities, the proposal includes 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.
Though the district had hoped to eliminate the cosmetic surgery rider for members of the Buffalo Teachers Federation and the Buffalo Council of Supervisors and Administrators in exchange for health benefit cards, that offer was not accepted by either union.
The board will discuss the proposed budget at a committee meeting at 3 p.m. today.