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Board members search for savings in city school budget

Mike Desmond/wbfo news

With the proposed Buffalo school budget slated to pull millions of dollars out of thinning reserves to balance the spending plan, board members spent several hours Wednesday night looking for savings.

Much of the discussion involved basic changes, from limiting budget items for overtime to questioning how many special education classes the district actually needs. Some questioned the millions of dollars being paid to school custodians, a line that has been swelled by overtime pay.
"Why are we paying engineers, or custodians, to overtime to be there at night or to be there to open the school in the evenings?" wondered Board Member Carl Paladino. 

"I don't understand the logic of that. If we're already paying them as a contractor to be there at night."
Board members called the practice "double dipping." Those payments to custodians to be there if a building is open at night add up to so much money it makes it hard for the district to use the buildings at night for like tutoring or sports. Board managers and lawyers are being asked to look into what are often contractual rules. Paladino questioned if the contract could be changed.

The costs of special education came under scrutiny.Even Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash is questioning the continuing rise in costs of special education. As more classes are formed, and more teachers are hired. Some cautioned against a dollars-first approach, including Board Member Barbara Seals Nevergold.

"I am concerned about focusing too much on the numbers dealing with the classroom overage, seemingly you are looking at paper and pencil and we are talking about individual human beings here."

A budget vote could come at next week's meeting of the full school board.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.