Char­ters pay­ments to in­crease 8%

The Buffalo News - - CONTINUED FROM THE COVER -

BUD­GET •fromA1

time around when crit­ics, like Quinn, warned the pact was too ex­pen­sive for the dis­trict to af­ford.

Added costs in the last con­tract cost just un­der $100 mil­lion over three years. A por­tion was paid for with re­serves, while the dis­trict has been able to ab­sorb the rest the past three years with state aid in­creases and cost con­trols, Pritchard said.

Quinn cred­ited Pritchard for do­ing a good job man­ag­ing the dis­trict through the three­year con­tract, but now what?

“I don’t know how you do a new con­tract,” said Quinn, who is not run­ning for re-elec­tion. “You gave away all of the money you had and didn’t get the re­forms you needed. Now, the con­tract’s up.”

As in the past, union and dis­trict of­fi­cials will rely on the state to help foot the bill. They had been wait­ing to be­gin a new round of ne­go­ti­a­tions un­til they had a bet­ter idea of how much the school dis­trict will re­ceive from the state.

• As more char­ter schools have opened or ex­panded in the city, the pay­ments made to char­ters have be­come the fast­ing-grow­ing cost for the school dis­trict.

Char­ters are in­de­pen­dently run pub­lic schools that re­ceive money from the school dis­trict for each pupil they enroll.

Pay­ments to char­ters are ex­pected to go up 8 per­cent this year to $128 mil­lion. That amount is pro­jected to climb to nearly $137 mil­lion next year, an­other 7 per­cent.

Mean­while, Pritchard said, the dis­trict is left with ex­cess capacity be­cause the ran­dom­ized na­ture of the stu­dent loss to char­ters – they don’t all leave a sin­gle school or class­room – means the dis­trict can’t sim­ply close a build­ing or lay off a teacher to com­pen­sate.

“Each one of these new char­ter schools be­comes very quickly a $5 mil­lion-ayear ex­pen­di­ture for us now,” Pritchard said. “Can we re­duce costs to ac­com­mo­date that? That’s sort of the big issue.”

• Dis­tricts like Buf­falo are un­der greater pres­sure to make sure schools with the largest share of un­der­served stu­dents get more money. That may force school boards to jug­gle re­sources.

The state for the first time is re­quir­ing dis­tricts across New York to re­port schoolby-school bud­gets to en­sure that tax­payer dol­lars are be­ing dis­trib­uted eq­ui­tably to schools where kids need the most help.

Gov. An­drew M. Cuomo pro­posed a law re­quir­ing dis­tricts to dis­trib­ute fund­ing to schools based on an equity for­mula. That re­ceived push­back in the State Se­nate and As­sem­bly, where law­mak­ers ul­ti­mately de­cided that next year the state will be­gin iden­ti­fy­ing “un­der­funded high­need schools” and those dis­tricts will have to re­port back on how they are ap­pro­pri­at­ing fund­ing.

Most of the money in the school dis­trict’s $1.1 bil­lion spend­ing plan comes from New York State, while only about 8 per­cent of the $916 mil­lion in its gen­eral fund is from the City of Buf­falo.

The dis­trict wants more. Two years ago, the school dis­trict did man­age to get the city to up its an­nual “main­te­nance of ef­fort” by an­other half-mil­lion dol­lars a year to $70.8 mil­lion, breaking a pat­tern of flat city fund­ing.

Look for the new School Board to con­tinue to press the issue.

The mul­ti­pronged ap­proach to im­prov­ing stu­dent achieve­ment has be­come the crux of the school dis­trict’s re­form ef­forts.

Su­per­in­ten­dent Kriner Cash’s sig­na­ture ini­tia­tive in­cludes low­er­ing class sizes in the younger grades to get kids bet­ter pre­pared early, and pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional ser­vices af­ter school and on week­ends for kids and fam­i­lies who need the most help.

All of that, of course, costs money. Those ef­forts have been incorporated into the dis­trict’s bud­get.

Can the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion con­tinue to af­ford them?

“If you look at the his­tory of the dis­trict, when there’s blue skies, they do all of these new pro­grams,” Quinn said, “and when a re­ces­sion hits, they cut all of those pro­grams.”

Derek Gee/Buf­falo News file photo

First-graders read be­neath the “Peace Bridge” at REACH Academy Char­ter School. Pay­ments to char­ters have be­come the fast­ing-grow­ing cost for the city school dis­trict. Squeez­ing more money from Buf­falo.

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