West Genesee Schools faces $5.63 million budget shortfall

The West Genesee School District is scrutinizing all areas of its operation in order to close an estimated $5.63 million budget gap - last year's deficit was substantially less, at $2.3 million.

West Genesee Superintendent Chris Brown recently laid off 62 employees from all levels within the district, including administrative, as one step toward closing the deficit.

"The hardest thing that you do as a leader of any organization is lay people off, because they didn't do anything wrong," Brown said. "It's simply their placement on a seniority list, or a it's a budget number that you have to reach."

In a Feb. 3 blog post responding to the governor's proposed budget, which would cut spending for K-12 education by 2.9 percent, Brown said he understood Cuomo's desire to reduce funding to schools.

"I disagree with the governor's assertions that schools can close the gaps he presented through the use of reserves and pay freezes, however," he wrote.

Brown told the Observer that many schools "simply don't have the types of reserves [Cuomo's] thinking they have in order to balance budgets without massive layoffs."

The superintendent said West Genesee has allotted what he considers to be an "uncomfortable amount of reserves" for next year. If the district relied on a pay freeze and reserves alone to balance the budget, Brown continued, "we'd be out of money in about a year in a half."

Non-mandated programs are also up for elimination, and programs that currently go beyond what's required by the state will be tightened. With this in mind, Brown said districts should be looking hard at all other aspects of the budget.

"Since we're making such deep cuts to programming that has been a staple of education, anybody's got to consider any alternatives, including pay freezes," Brown said.

Cuomo's proposed budget includes a tax cap at 2 percent or inflation, whichever is lower, for the following the budget year.

"We have to consider that to get ready for the 2012-13 budget year," Brown said. "It's a two-year process to get us down to the tax cap."

Brown declined comment on the status of a salary freeze, which would close an estimated 20 percent of the district's deficit, or on specific cuts to programming, as decisions have yet to be finalized. We will post updates on West Genesee's budget as they become available in the weeks ahead.

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