West Genesee closes in on district-wide wage freeze

Administrators, teachers, teaching assistants and teaching aides at West Genesee voted yesterday to accept a wage freeze for the 2011-12 school year to help close a budget gap of $5.63 million.

Superintendent Chris Brown said the district would not go ahead with a wage freeze, which would save $900,000, unless all employees agreed to freeze their pay.

"All of our labor organizations need to be on board or we're not going to move forward with it at all," he said. "I look at us as a family. We share the good times, the bad times -- we share the times together."

Brown said the district is close to negotiating the same terms with the rest of its bargaining units, which represent about 100 of West Genesee's 750 employees.

Brown commended employees for voting overwhelmingly in support of the wage freeze, which would prevent West Genesee from making further cuts to educational programming and staff. He said gaining their support was a "trust thing."

"It was about being open and transparent," he said.

Further balancing

The district's budget shortfall results from an anticipated 16.6 percent loss in state aid.

"Last week we met with 62 employees, from various areas, who will not be returning to the district next year in order to close this gap and balance our budget," Brown explained in a Feb. 17 blog post . "We also evaluated our reserves and of the $4.425M that we have available to offset taxes, we are using $2.3M to balance the budget."

Along with the staff reductions, use of reserves, and cuts to programming, the anticipated wage freeze would result in a tax levy of 4.8 percent to close the rest of the budget gap.

"A 4.8% tax levy represents an additional $70 on a school tax bill for a home valued at $100,000," Brown said. Brown's proposed budget is $1.61 million less than last year.

Nod from the governor

Gov. Andrew Cuomo commended West Genesee administrators and faculty for volunteering to freeze their pay in a statement Friday.

"These are the type of tough but smart decisions school districts across New York should be making," Cuomo said. "West Genesee clearly understands the economic pressures we are facing and other school districts should follow this example."

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