Buffalo Public Schools were hoping for a substantial increase in state school aid for the upcoming school year, but did not get as much as hoped. In fact, it received the smallest increase of any of the state's Big Five school districts. That means the district is looking at a projected deficit of $16 million, which includes $20 million already taken from reserves.
For Buffalo Public Schools, there is more state money for next year's operating budget, but not enough to deal with rising costs like the average $100,000 wage and benefits cost of a single teacher.
When district CFO Geoffrey Pritchard looked at the state aid numbers, Buffalo received the lowest percentage increase of New York State's five largest cities, with the basic foundation aid up just under $15 million. He pointed out that Albany requirements mean well over half of that goes to charter schools for operations and transportation.
"We're going to get an additional $14.8 million in foundation aid this year and we are going to turn around and, I predict, spend approximately $7.9 million of that on charter school tuition," said Pritchard, "and, additionally, there are going to be four charter schools, two brand new schools and then two well-established schools that had not had transportation before that are going to receive transportation."
Pritchard said that transportation will cost the district another $1.5 million.
Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash said there is another problem: rising ranks of students in special education and who are English Language Learners are raising costs.
"The ELL I'm not as concerned with because really we had a 2,000+ student increase and we've increased 144 FTEs, aides, teachers and so forth. That's actually a fair balance," Cash said, "but when you see 256 kids increase in special education and a 256 FTE increase in special education, something's broken."
As past superintendents have learned, cutting special ed costs is not easy. Cash is looking at why the numbers keep rising as the number of students overall is dropping, although slowly.
If $20 million had not been taken from reserves, the district would have been facing a $36 million deficit. With only a few weeks to go before the school board has to adopt a budget, Cash is looking to cut as much as possible of that deficit.