Syracuse school budget calls for hundreds of job cuts, pay freeze

Superintendent Dan Lowengard says teachers and staff will once again be asked to do more with less.

"We knew in the fall this would be an incredibly difficult task to balance the budget, and students needs," said Lowengard.

Albany cut state aid by 6% to the Syracuse district which equates to more than $16-million lost.

About 540 positions are on the line to fill the $60-million gap and balance the near $332-million budget. That is 14% of it's workforce including 165 teachers, 156 teaching assistants, 70 security staff positions and 15 administration jobs. Lowengard hopes a retirement incentive will limit the number of layoffs needed.

He is also calling for a one-year pay freeze for all employees. "I know that's really difficult too. In fairness to them they've worked hard and long and we've negotiated fairly. But that's one of the only things we can do," said Lowengard.

The move would save at least 100 jobs. The Teachers Association President Kevin Ahern says he plans to bring this difficult request to the union members. He also calls this budget devastating. "You're asking teachers to make a decision that they shouldn't have to make," he said.

The painful cuts are across the board even school nurses will be eliminated. In front of the board Wednesday night, one nurse brought her concerns and asked the board to consider how the cuts will affect the 2,100 students. The kids could be hurt the most by all of this. Lowengard says teacher layoffs will undoubtedly force students to learn in larger classes.

"Our teachers are working non-stop all day long trying to address the needs of the students in these classrooms but when you continue to take away resources it just makes that job that much tougher," said Ahern.

Lowengard says class sizes will be posted online so parents can keep track.

Despite enrollment staying steady, the district says it cannot afford to keep all its 32 buildings open. The board already approved closing 2 schools next year. They will be used as swing space as the district renovates other schools.

Lowengard also highlighted the Say Yes to Education program, touting it's success, and saying they need to continue to build on that.

School officials say they will continue to lobby Albany, letting them know how painful these cuts are. They also want to see a fair distribution of state money, saying down-state districts see way more funding than upstate. And the formula used to dole out that money leaves poorer urban districts behind.

Lowengard says there is a brighter future ahead if Say Yes is fully implemented, construction is completed and a fair, equitable funding formula is approved.

The board will now work through the budget and vote on it March 9th. If layoffs are adopted, the district is aiming to send out pink slips by Mid-March so those workers will have more time to find a new job.

Updated at 7:05pm:

Superintendent Dan Lowengard is asking workers to take a pay freeze.

In his $331.7 million budget, Lowengard proposes a one year pay freeze for all union members. He says it would save 100 jobs.

The superintendent's budget also includes 540 job cuts. Not all of those cuts would be layoffs though because some come from eliminating vacant positions.

CNYcentral's Caitlin Nuclo is at tonight's budget presentation. Stay with for updates. Caitlin will also have the latest details and reaction tonight on NBC3 and CBS5 News at 11:00pm

Posted earlier:

Syracuse City Schools Superintendent Dan Lowengard will present his budget his budget for the upcoming school year to the school board Wednesday night.

The district is facing a budget deficit of nearly $50 million and Lowengard's budget is expected to call for major cuts to fill the gap. As many as 500 teaching and staff positions could be eliminated.

The budget is also expected to call for an early retirement incentive package which would be open to eligible employees in all unions. Lowengard says both measures could save the district close to 40 million dollars.

The move comes less than a week after Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposal to cut millions of dollars of state aid to schools.

The Syracuse School Board voted to close Elmwood Elementary and Bellevue Middle Schools last month as a cost cutting measure.

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