By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Residents in Niagara-Wheatfield will have to wait at least two more weeks before finding out how the district plans to solve its food service budget deficit.
Despite a school board meeting agenda Wednesday calling for several changes to the personnel manning both school kitchens and lunch rooms, board members held off on the necessary vote to either reassign, reduce or remove the staff in question.
"We need to do a bit more research before we take any action," board President Steve Sabo said. "It will probably impact people, but we need to do some more work."
Originally, district officials negotiated with its school related personnel union to make the changes listed in its personnel report proposal. A total of 24 employees were set to be reduced in hours, while four employees were listed as layoffs.
Everything was set to take place Nov. 1. But the delay in action puts the plan on hold indefinitely.
The changes became necessary after food service Manager Domenic Barile reported a negative balance in his fund during a presentation to the board at its Oct. 9 meeting.
Barile said his account is about $170,000 in the negative, which would be made up with help from the district's general fund if not fixed on its own. But the breakfast and lunch program is designed to be independent of the general fund, which itself uses taxpayer dollars to operate.
"We need to do something to close the gap," Superintendent Lynn Marie Fusco said. "We want to work cooperatively with our association to accomplish this. Something will be done."
While the food service budget is under scrutiny, Fusco announced a small change she said will have an impact on the district's general fund. After a question brought to the table by board member Amy Deull, Fusco said the district will no longer purchase multi-gallon jugs of water to be dispensed in its buildings – for staff members – with the exception of the Tuscarora school.
It's only expected to save thousands of dollars in a $60 million operation, but Fusco said it's all important.
"Every expense has an impact on the budget," she said. "We need to be very cognizant of what we're spending our money on."
Though it's designed to cut a cost in a district looking at a forecasted difficult budget season for a third year in a row, the move comes at a time just months after approving a handful of small-percentage, administrative raises to managerial employees, including Barile in the food service department.
She said the raises the board approved – after a recommendation from her – shouldn't be considered in the same breath as the cuts to water services.
"It's not one for one," Fusco said. "The rationale isn't the same for one as it is for the other. The budget is a huge thing to wrap our heads around. When we look at our leadership, our current employees, they're excellent. Some of our employees have taken freezes, and not for just one year. For multiple years."
Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.