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Will charter schools determine Buffalo public school district's budget?

WBFO's Eileen Buckley

While Buffalo schools are looking for millions of dollars more from Albany in the annual school aid budget fight, the district is diving into the intricacies of its spending and hoping to knock millions off its costs.

Adding up the regular budget and ancillary spending, the district will spend nearly $1 billion this year, with a deficit in the works and one likely next year. Clearly, that depends on what Albany sends out in a very harsh fiscal year.

That is why district managers are delving into where the money will go and are looking at shaving $11 million in their planned budget. While that may not seem like a lot, those savings carry over into the planning for the year after also.

District CFO Geoff Pritchard said it starts adding up pretty quickly.

"If we find it and there are a lot of things Dr. Cash and I are looking at right now that we want to start diving into, in terms of efficiencies, cost reductions in certain areas," Pritchard said. "If we save that $10.8 million in next year's budget, that should continue on. Again, any cost savings you have or if you can find recurring revenues, those can carry on year after year after year."

It is important because much of the district bank account reserve is being spent on the new teachers contract and there are other contracts to be settled, likely with additional costs.

Pritchard says the push for more charter schools and more charter school students would mean more money flowing to those charters with some sticking to the district coffers and potentially allowing the closing of up to three schools, saving millions.

"Current revenue for us that will then pass to the charters, while they are going to take students out of our schools," Pritchard said. "If they take them out of our schools, then we don't even need to staff our schools, may even have to close schools and so forth. I don't put that in the actual model, but that's something that I know as essentially deficit reductions. If you have charters over the next three or four years that are planning to add 1,500 students, that's like three of our schools."

Pritchard says students are not moving out of one school and into one charter, they are coming from all over the place.

"Over the long term, over the course of years, the district has and will continue to downsize for the movement of these students," Pritchard said. "And you may even find that we are able to decide a lot of things going on, that the district schools become a better option for some of these students that decide they want to stay."

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.
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