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Sharing the pain? Answering the questions?

The Board of Ed won a few concessions from the district in the 2011-12 budget.

After board members complained that the maximum class size had gone too high and that the district needed to start reinstating attendance teachers, CFO Barb Smith found an extra $1 million in the nearly $800 million budget.

The money, she said, came from recalculating a spot in the budget that was derived from an average teacher salary. She tweaked the figure she used for an average salary, and squeaked out an extra $1 million. What did the board want to do with that money?

Well, the board decided to split the money. Half went toward putting more teachers in the classroom. That worked out to nine teachers, which puts the max class size at 30 for grades four through six, instead of a max of 32.

The other half of the $1 million will be set aside for attendance teachers.

So most board members were satisfied with those restorations. The board approved the budget, 5-2.

The budget, you might remember, includes the elimination of 302 positions. That's likely to work out to about 75 teacher layoffs and 75 teacher aide layoffs, once all the dust settles. The district saved $4 million alone by increasing maximum class sizes (in other words, cutting teachers).

Those of you who have been following along might recall that back in March, when there was quite some concern about the fact that the superintendent has doubled the size of his exempt staff, some board members made quite a bit of noise about insisting that those exempts would see cuts, too, if teachers were cut.

Here's what one board member said at the time, looking ahead to the 2011-12 budget:

"We obviously are going to have to close some buildings, lay some people off," said board President Ralph R. Hernandez. "My position is that there has to be equity across the board in regard to layoffs, everybody sharing the pain -- and that includes [Williams'] administrators."

Well, that never came to pass. The adopted budget leaves all 28 non-union employees in place, although a small portion of the funding for salaries was shifted from the general fund budget to grant funding.

But when the board briefly discussed the budget Wednesday night prior to voting on it, Mary Ruth Kapsiak raised a few questions -- questions she had asked last week about the budget, but apparently still had not received answers to.

Chief among her questions: Why had two positions, the director of ELA and director of math, been eliminated? With so many schools being designated as persistently lowest-achieving, based on poor student performance in those areas, this doesn't seem to be a good time to be eliminating those jobs, Kapsiak argued.

She had other questions about budget items, too -- for instance, an employee who was supposed to have been terminated, but somehow got back into the budget -- and asked that the board wait until she got answers to those questions before voting on the budget.

Rosalyn Taylor agreed.

"If there is one board member who's not ready to vote on the budget, then we need to wait until their questions have been addressed," Taylor said.

Smith said waiting would not be a good idea. Because 30-day employee layoff notices need to be sent out, she said, the board should adopt the budget as soon as possible, so that those notices would get sent out before the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30.

(Last year, the board also laid off dozens of employees. When did it adopt the budget? June 16.)

Hernandez suggested holding a special meeting on Friday to adopt the budget, to allow time for Kapsiak's questions to be answered. Smith will be on vacation then, Williams said. So that killed the idea of a special meeting on Friday to adopt the budget.

A few seconds later, Hernandez called a vote on the budget. It passed, 5-2, with Kapsiak and Taylor voting no.

Before the meeting was over, it's worth noting, the board decided to hold a special meeting at 12:30 p.m. Friday, to interview a final candidate for the Ferry District seat.

- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

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Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

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