Buffalo School Superintendent Pamela C. Brown said her reorganization of the district’s central staff would save the district more than $1 million this year. Yet, after an analysis of the changes by The Buffalo News – an analysis that Brown did not dispute – it turns out the changes will add about $2 million to the district’s payroll.
So what should parents, taxpayers and state education officials believe when she also says the graduation rate jumped to 53 percent in June from 47 percent the previous year? Brown had to know that her budget numbers didn’t add up in the ways she presented them; in fact, she tried to explain away the discrepancy. Does she know something about the graduation numbers that she is also concealing? And what about her reports of increasing attendance and reduced rates of suspension?
We don’t know, but plainly, it pays not to take Brown’s figures at face value. The state is auditing the graduation numbers now. It will be interesting to learn its conclusions.
Regardless of that issue, though, Brown’s dissembling on her budget figures is indefensible. She announced months ago that her office reorganization would save the district more than 1$ million this year, but she resisted providing details. When The Buffalo News looked closely at the plan, though, it showed that while some of her changes did create a savings of $969,350, she added another $2.92 million in payroll. Thus, the net change is $2 million in the red – and closer to $3 million when employee benefits are factored in.
Here are some of the details:
• She cut the pay for four top administrative positions, through demotions and replacement hires, and also moved 16 lower-level positions out of central office and into schools to fill vacancies. That created the savings of $969,350.
• But she also created three new high-ranking positions and filled another one that had been long vacant, totaling $443,000 in new salaries.
• In addition, she added 39 new union administrative jobs in central office, for an estimated $2.48 million in new salaries.
• She gave raises ranging from $2,000 to $15,000 to a dozen non-union central office administrators, many of whom have served in their roles for years.
Brown defends those expenses. Some of the administrators had expanded job duties, she said. Others got raises in an effort to bring their salaries in line with their counterparts in other districts.
What is more, she said the district has started funding some positions through state and federal grants, helping to create some of the “savings.” Of course, that spending is still taxpayer money that could have been used for other purposes.
But the bottom line is that Brown trumpeted $1 million in savings while concealing millions in new expenses. It was deceitful of everyone who funds or is otherwise interested in the actions of the city school district.
That’s not to say that her changes aren’t beneficial. They could be – or not. She hasn’t explained why taxpayers should be satisfied with paying up to $3 million more, since she was more interested in concealing those costs than in justifying them.
What is more, the value of Brown’s changes is irrelevant to the discussion of whether she was playing straight with the people of Buffalo when she claimed $1 million in savings. She wasn’t. Nor was she playing straight with the state when she cut an unacceptable side deal with the Buffalo Teachers Federation regarding a teacher evaluation system. What remains to be seen, for now, is how accurate her claims are on the attendance, suspensions and the rate of graduation.