Much like Buffalo and cities around the country, the financial state of Buffalo Public Schools has been thrown into question by the coronavirus pandemic—yet budgeting must continue. District officials presented a draft budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year to the Common Council Wednesday even as further state cuts loom ahead.
Speaking to council members in a virtual public meeting, BPS Chief Financial Officer Geoffrey Pritchard said the district has managed to balance an anticipated $90 million deficit for next year with minimal cuts to services, though some reductions in staff, overtime pay and contract and vendor spending may be necessary.
“This is what we call our survivable budget,” Pritchard said. “It maintains the level of services that we’re doing now almost intact. It does utilize fund balance. It does utilize savings from the current fiscal year, but it allows us to keep our schools open—when they do open—and provide a similar level of service that we have in the last several years.”
Pritchard did not offer further details on which staff could be cut, and he also said the district expects to continue revising the budget, possibly as soon as in a few weeks.
“This could change in May. It could change in July and then after December—at each one of these periods the governor has the ability to revise state aid allocated to schools and municipalities based on actual state results. So, we don’t know what these are yet. We hope that if there are reductions, they will be offset in large part by federal aid.”
BPS relies on state aid for about 80-85% of its total funding, according to Pritchard. And while the federal government allocated about $1.1 billion for New York public schools in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in late March, the state then cut its aid to school districts in the same amount.
Recent analysis of that move by the nonprofit education news organization Chalkbeat confirmed that New York’s highest-poverty school districts, including Buffalo, are being hit hardest the state’s budget crisis. Local advocates have also been warning about the harmful impact of a potential 20% to public education, which Governor Andrew Cuomo recently said he was considering.
Such a cut would “unjustly plummet our district into an unrecoverable state indefinitely,” wrote Buffalo Board of Education at-large member Larry Scott in a Buffalo News Op-Ed on May 2. “Our federal government, in cooperation with the state, must intervene. As they have for the airlines and big businesses, our elected officials must provide substantial relief to our public schools, and especially our high-need urban districts. Raising federal and/or state taxes on the wealthy to avert draconian cuts to education must be on the table.”