City schools bud­get tops $1 bil­lion, but is that enough?

Pro­jected deficits loom in com­ing years

The Buffalo News - - FRONT PAGE - By Jay Rey

Buf­falo’s Next School Board: With all nine board seats on the bal­lot May 7, The Buf­falo News is look­ing at crit­i­cal is­sues that will face a new board in the of­ten-trou­bled dis­trict. To­day: Dis­trict fi­nances.

If there’s one cer­tainty about what’s in store for a new Buf­falo Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, it’s that fis­cal chal­lenges lie ahead. They al­ways do.

You might think a $1 bil­lion bud­get would pay for what­ever a school dis­trict needs, but there al­ways seems to be an­other deficit to erase or a fi­nan­cial cri­sis to avoid.

“It’s re­ally a func­tion of the overall economy,” said Geoffrey Pritchard, chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer for the Buf­falo Pub­lic Schools. “As long as the economy and the stock mar­ket do well, that drives a lot of the rev­enue at the state level. And what drives the state drives our aid be­cause 85 per­cent of our rev­enues come from the state.”

For now, the school dis­trict is man­ag­ing. It has done that thanks largely to sev­eral years of an­nual state aid in­creases

of around 3 per­cent – the same in­crease in the state bud­get passed this week – along with some con­ser­va­tive bud­get­ing and cost re­duc­tions in such ar­eas as health in­sur­ance, nurs­ing ser­vices and sub­sti­tute teach­ers. In fact, the dis­trict warned of a deficit last year but ended with a sur­plus due to some one-shot rev­enues.

But still on the hori­zon are pro­jected deficits rang­ing from $11 mil­lion to $25 mil­lion over the next three years.

And the big chal­lenge for the next School Board is nav­i­gat­ing the fi­nances of this large, complex ur­ban dis­trict if there’s a down­turn in the economy, state aid in­creases dry up and there are not enough re­serves left to plug the gaps, said at-large Board Mem­ber Larry Quinn, who has fol­lowed the bud­get closely for the last five years.

The bot­tom line: There are bud­get is­sues around ev­ery cor­ner.

Here are five:

• The three-year deal reached in 2016 be­tween the Buf­falo Pub­lic Schools and the Buf­falo Teach­ers Fed­er­a­tion ex­pires at the end of June. Both sides re­turned to the bar­gain­ing ta­ble Tues­day.

How much a new con­tract will ul­ti­mately cost the dis­trict will be the big ques­tion for the new board, just as it was last

of a Buf­falo Dio­cese pro­gram cre­ated last year to pay child­hood vic­tims of clergy sex abuse who agreed not to sue.

Ko­sciel­niak was not el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply for com­pen­sa­tion through the In­de­pen­dent Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and Com­pen­sa­tion Pro­gram be­cause he had not told the dio­cese about the abuse prior to March 2018.

“Even if I was el­i­gi­ble for it, I would not take it,” he said, calling the dio­cese’s of­fers “hush money.”

The Buf­falo Dio­cese re­peat­edly has de­clined to dis­cuss any de­tails about its com­pen­sa­tion pro­gram, such as how many peo­ple ap­plied or how much it has paid out in set­tle­ments. Be­yond re­leas­ing the names of 80 pri­ests with sub­stan­ti­ated al­le­ga­tions of abuse against them, Bishop Richard J. Malone has re­fused to pro­vide more in­for­ma­tion to the pub­lic about the depth and scope of clergy sex­ual abuse of mi­nors in the dio­cese.

The Buf­falo News learned through in­ter­views with abuse vic­tims and at­tor­neys that more than 100 peo­ple ap­plied to the dio­cese’s com­pen­sa­tion pro­grams and more than 50 set­tle­ment of­fers have been made so far, to­tal­ing at least $8 mil­lion. Abuse sur­vivors who ac­cept a com­pen­sa­tion of­fer sign away their rights to sue, and the dio­cese is un­der no le­gal obli­ga­tion to re­lease de­tails of set­tle­ments or of al­leged abuses.

But it will be­come harder for the dio­cese to keep a lid on in­for­ma­tion once cases like Ko­sciel­niak’s end up in state court. Malone and other dio­cese of­fi­cials will be at the mercy of the court to turn over church files and to an­swer the prob­ing ques­tions of trial at­tor­neys al­leg­ing that the dio­cese was neg­li­gent in al­low­ing abu­sive clergy to op­er­ate in parishes around chil­dren.

Ko­sciel­niak said he wants the dio­cese’s se­crets out in the open, even if it means giv­ing up his own pri­vacy. “I’ve come to re­al­ize I own this. It hap­pened. I’m not go­ing to deny it any­more,” he said. “I asked my­self the ques­tion: What’s the right thing to do? And the right thing to do is not to be silent.”

“Keep­ing silent,” he added, “the only peo­ple it helps are the per­pe­tra­tors, the pe­dophiles.”

Covert said he was pre­par­ing law­suits of be­half of sev­eral clients who were aware of the dio­cese’s com­pen­sa­tion pro­gram and chose not to ap­ply, even though at the time there was no guar­an­tee a Child Vic­tims Act with a sus­pended statute of lim­i­ta­tions on sex abuse cases would be en­acted. “A lot of them said they just didn’t trust the church,” said Covert. “They thought [the com­pen­sa­tion pro­gram] was a way to white­wash their story.”

Most dio­ce­ses in New York cre­ated com­pen­sa­tion pro­grams; five dio­ce­ses have paid more than $200 mil­lion to nearly 1,200 vic­tims through those pro­grams, ac­cord­ing to the ad­min­is­tra­tors.

But many other clergy abuse vic­tims ei­ther were de­nied com­pen­sa­tion or were un­aware of the pro­grams, said Break­stone.

At­tor­ney J. Michael Reck said he ex­pected many cases to be filed against the Buf­falo Dio­cese be­cause its com­pen­sa­tion pro­gram was so re­stric­tive. “The Buf­falo Dio­cese turned away far more sur­vivors than they ever con­sid­ered,” said Reck, who is rep­re­sent­ing Ko­sciel­niak. “All of the sur­vivors who were de­nied par­tic­i­pa­tion are now able to file law­suits.”

Ko­sciel­niak’s story

Ko­sciel­niak started calling the dio­cese last April or May to re­port what hap­pened to him, and left mul­ti­ple mes­sages. He didn’t get a re­turn call un­til July or Au­gust, he said.

Ko­sciel­niak ac­cused Bur­son of fondling him dur­ing a re­treat with the high school li­brary club. Bur­son was li­brar­ian at Dougherty for many years and is part of a con­gre­ga­tion known as the Eud­ist Fa­thers that pro­vided pri­ests for the high school in Buf­falo’s Black Rock neigh­bor­hood.

Malone has iden­ti­fied 80 Buf­falo-area pri­ests with sub­stan­ti­ated al­le­ga­tions of sex abuse of mi­nors against them. Bur­son, 84, is on that list.

He ap­pears to be liv­ing in Cal­i­for­nia. Un­til early Novem­ber 2018, around the time Malone added him to a Buf­falo Dio­cese list of of­fend­ing pri­ests, Bur­son was a pri­est “in res­i­dence” at St. Pa­trick Church in Carls­bad, Calif. A web­site for the Eud­ists says Bur­son was “well-loved for years as the li­brar­ian at Car­di­nal Dougherty High School in Buf­falo” and continues to do min­istry at St. Pa­trick on week­ends and in the retirement home where he lives. Mes­sages left for Bur­son and for the Rev. William Row­land, pas­tor of St. Pa­trick and su­pe­rior of the U.S. re­gion for the Eud­ist Fa­thers, were not re­turned.

Ko­sciel­niak said he was a 15-year-old sopho­more when he went on a win­ter week­end re­treat with seven or eight other stu­dents in the li­brary club to Con­so­lata Mis­sion Cen­ter in Amherst. On the first night of the re­treat, Ko­sciel­niak said he was in a dorm room alone, sleep­ing on his back in bed when he awoke to Bur­son sit­ting on the mat­tress, fondling him. “I froze, and I couldn’t be­lieve what was hap­pen­ing. I didn’t know what to do. I said to my­self, ‘OK, just pre­tend you’re still sleep­ing,’” said Ko­sciel­niak. “I rolled over and tried to hug the wall.” The pri­est grabbed his mid­sec­tion to turn him over, but Ko­sciel­niak said he kept his body pressed against the wall un­til the pri­est even­tu­ally left the room. “I didn’t sleep that whole night,” he said. Bur­son came back the next night and tried again, but Ko­sciel­niak again pressed him­self to the wall un­til the pri­est gave up and left, he said.

Ko­sciel­niak told no one, es­pe­cially not his par­ents, who were devout Catholics. “You don’t talk about this in the ’70s with anybody, es­pe­cially not in the neigh­bor­hood where I came from,” he said.

Ko­sciel­niak said he thought he was strong enough to deal with the trauma on his own. He grew up in a rough-and-tum­ble neigh­bor­hood on Buf­falo’s East Side. He lifted weights and played of­fen­sive line for the foot­ball team. But in hind­sight, Ko­sciel­niak said he was try­ing to hide from the trauma.

Months af­ter the al­leged abuse, Dougherty closed and Ko­sciel­niak went to St. Mary’s High School in Lan­caster, where he con­tin­ued to play foot­ball. He broke his jaw in a game – an in­jury that led to his los­ing 80 pounds. He looked like a dif­fer­ent per­son.

Ko­sciel­niak re­mem­bers punch­ing him­self in the jaw to keep it from heal­ing so he wouldn’t be able to eat and would keep los­ing weight. “That was my way of chang­ing who I was,” he said. “I didn’t re­al­ize what I was do­ing at the time.”

Af­ter col­lege, Ko­sciel­niak pur­sued a ca­reer out­side of Western New York in the mu­sic busi­ness. He said he now rec­og­nizes he was try­ing to es­cape. He went by the name Kevin Kay while work­ing in mar­ket­ing and pro­mo­tions for sev­eral large record labels in big cities such as Hous­ton and Detroit, where no­body knew any­thing about his past. He drank a lot. He felt out of place ev­ery­where. He thought about sui­cide. He had trouble sleep­ing. Three years ago, he had a ner­vous break­down.

“It was just the cul­mi­na­tion of deal­ing with this for so long by my­self,” he said. “The shame, it just swal­lows you.”

Coun­sel­ing and ther­apy got him to the point of be­ing able to talk about the abuse, he said. He has told his wife, two sons and his sis­ters, as well as a hand­ful of close friends. Talk­ing about the abuse is part of Ko­sciel­niak’s heal­ing process, and he wants to en­cour­age other sur­vivors to come for­ward with their sto­ries. “It’s like a mil­lion pounds off your shoulders,” he said.

Reck said he in­tends to file a law­suit on be­half of Ko­sciel­niak against the Buf­falo Dio­cese and the Eud­ist or­der as soon as pos­si­ble. The win­dow opens Aug. 14 and runs through Aug. 14, 2020.

“The first day,” said Ko­sciel­niak, “I’m in line.”

Derek Gee/Buf­falo News

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