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Buffalo schools lament lack of more money for art, music

Mike Desmond

The Buffalo School Board is likely to approve its proposed budget without much difficulty next Wednesday. Last night's budget discussion revolved around the future and where the district is going.

District administrators squeezed spending to cut a planned deficit down to $19 million and then filled that hole from reserves. A possible deficit nearly twice that was cut by spending cuts in central administration, in the buildings and even some layoffs.

Some board members wanted more staff in the buildings, for enrichment issues like art and music, but mostly they lost out in school-based budgeting to core academic subjects to help meet state standards. Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash reminded the board of a core rule.

"For the 33,000 children that we have to serve, we have a fraction of the money that comes in for foundation aid, because that's what goes directly to the kids, what you're talking about, for services," Cash said. "There are no increases that are coming from anywhere else. So I have to, we have to manage through that and everybody has to pull in a little bit. And at the end of the day, that's what you gotta do. You have to produce a balanced budget."

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Buffalo Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash says the district does not have enough money for extras beyond basic educational needs.

Cash said he and his staff are looking for more ways to cut spending outside of the classroom and look for big-dollar outside help to allow continuing progress on his New Education Bargain. At the same time, since reserves have shrunk because they have been used to balance the budget, he is looking for a budget in the very near future that is balanced without using reserves.

Everyone sitting around the board table said there just is not enough money, compounded this year by the fact that most new money from Albany was passed through to charter schools.

Board Member Sharon Belton Cottman lamented the problems at Burgard Vocational High School and suggested finding more money for art and music might help.

"If you look at their attendance rate, I think it's three times more or less than what we should have and no one is trying to figure out how do we change the culture in the building and bring it back to support?" Belton Cottman said. "Maybe if we got a music teacher in there who could do instruments, you could at least bring the kids who are blowing instruments or who are playing instruments."

Cash said he wants more instrumental and choral music and art in the buildings, but there is not enough money. He said the district is planning to expand grant writing, even hiring on commission, to find millions of dollars more for programs beyond basic education.

Board Member Paulette Woods wants less fiscal maneuvering by the administration.

"Do a hiring freeze and keep the staff that these people need, so that our schools don't have these hard decisions impacting service," Woods said. "The priority should be the teachers serving our students. So you have eliminations, people going out the door, while you're talking about bringing in more."

The layoffs called for in the agreed-upon budget mostly get rid of unfilled positions.

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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