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Frontier School Board considers cuts that could narrow budget gap

HAMBURG — Crafting a budget for 2014 – 2015 that is balanced and transparent to taxpayers is the stated mission of Frontier Central School District officials for the immediate fiscal planning stage.

To get revenues to equal expenditures, officials said that they are considering cuts from several areas, outlined in the March 4 budget workshop.

Interim District Superintendent Paul Hashem reminded those in attendance that any suggested or mentioned cuts are tentative in nature, and he added that fiscal analysis should contain several adjustments or changes before the noted April 25 deadline.

School Business Manager Richard Calipari said that the district currently faces a budget gap of $3,623,023, with projected expenditures for 2014 – 2015 at $75,294,228 outweighing projected revenues of $71,671,205.

The budget gap of more than $4 million has closed somewhat, since the board’s Feb. 25 meeting; Calipari said that, since that time, the New York state comptroller’s office provided Frontier new information about how to handle capital expenditures, allowing the district to raise an additional $600,000-plus more in taxes than was originally projected. It was previously reported that the state allowable growth factor for Frontier is 1.46 percent.

Hashem said that closing the existing gap will be conducted through incorporating various additional revenues brought to the district, while making cuts to several areas. The meeting’s outline included the following items mentioned as cost savings:

– More state aid expected.

– A spending freeze instituted in September, saving $300,000.

– Employee retirement incentives accepted by nine employees so far, with the expectation of saving $800,000.

– A self-funded health insurance system starting next year.

Reductions that were brought to the board included the possibility of cutting some co-curricular clubs, as a combined 66 exist between the high school and middle school, to go along with $100,000 aggregately funding the clubs.

Hashem mentioned band and National Honor Society as organizations that would not be touched. Other possible cuts or tweaks could be considered from the following areas:

– Modified sports, as well as the position of athletic trainer (earning $25,000) at the middle school.

– Eliminating late bus runs, with a recent online survey indicating some parents’ interest in transporting students, if it meant cost savings.

– Reducing specials to a strictly required number, rather than providing more classes than are needed.

– Speech teachers, as there are currently 11 in the district. It was stated that a loss of one full-time-equivalent speech teacher would save $58,000.

– Librarians, as there are currently six, with one per school building. A loss of one FTE librarian would save $70,000, while two FTE would represent $160,000 in savings.

– Not replacing soon-to-be-retired Director of Facilities Allan Brown, for at least the next year. This was said to save more than $120,000 in salary and benefits.

– Seeking proposals for the district’s insurance in the stated hope of lowering the cost.

– Establishing “pay for play” guidelines for some areas, as well as promoting booster clubs to fund various expenses.

– Social workers, as there are six FTEs in the district. One FTE elimination here was said to account for about $57,000, and two FTE represent $131,000.

“If we can keep everyone, we will,” Hashem said, regarding staff. “We’ve been listening to the community and students who have spoken up [at community budget forums and through the online survey]. They gave us valuable input.”

The interim superintendent added that any rumors regarding the district’s considering outsourcing the areas of food service and transportation are false.

“We have zero intentions of outsourcing [either],” he said.

Board Member Thomas Best Jr. said that budget planning must be more transparent than the fiscal planning that occurred last year, and added that it is not in the board’s best interest to incorporate last-minute cuts.

Facility and transportation department members presented various numbers for their areas.

Director of Transportation James Chiulis noted that there are currently 118 total staff members in transportation, including 66 regular drivers and 20 regular bus attendants for the 90 buses, which are inspected by the NYS Department of Transportation every six months.

Additionally, an inspector is present at Frontier’s facility, every week, to look at three to five buses. Chiulis said that 5,539 students are transported on a daily basis, including 4,383 from Frontier, to go along with 705 special education students, 451 non-public/private school students and 403 who attend alternate sites.

Frontier transportation is provided to 79 WNY schools, including six in the Frontier district, 24 in special education public schools, 22 in non-public schools, 17 in special education private schools, four in private schools and two in vocational schools.

Additional transportation items include 329 school runs made per day, 17 midday runs and 26 late runs. Chiulis said the recent closings of local Catholic schools could present future challenges to transportation in the district, if students transfer to Frontier and require or are eligible for bus pickups and dropoffs.

District officials thanked Brown for his 18 years of service, as he is slated to retire in July.

“It’s been an honor and a pleasure to work with him,” Calipari said, about his experience conducting business with Brown. “He’s a very knowledgeable man. It’ll be a loss for the district. It takes a lot of years to know what [he] knows.”

The next regular meeting of the Frontier Central School Board will take place at 7 p.m. on March 25 at the Frontier Educational Center, located at 5120 Orchard Ave. in Hamburg.
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