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Frontier dips into its reserves to help with the budget

In front of a packed crowd Tuesday (April 23), Frontier School District officials announced that an additional half-million dollars from the district’s fund balance reserves will be appropriated toward lessening cuts in the 2013-14 expenditure budget, a fiscal plan that board members adopted by a 7-2 vote.

Board Members Jack Chiappone and Lynn Szalkowski voted against the adoption, which now includes the fiscal expenditure plan of $73,215,727, a figure that incorporates $500,000 being added to the previously outlines total of $72,715,727. The adopted tax rate will not be affected by the fund balance reserve addition, with reserves for 2013-14 now totaling $2,611,075. It was stated by district officials that the reserve allocation does not guarantee saving of specified eliminated staff positions, with staff cuts slated to encompass 15.1 full time equivalent teaching positions and 22.7 FTE support staff. It was added that district officials will wait to review English Language Arts and assessment test scores of students, with decisions perhaps coming in late summer on the allocation of funds to restore positions for programs.

Board President Janet Plarr warned those in attendance- a standing room only crowd that featured several impassioned speakers advocating for position restorations- that depleting the fund balance reserves can have adverse effects, noting a relative situation in Niagara-Wheatfield in which that district eliminated its kindergarten program. However, a 6-3 roll call vote among board members indicated the district’s decision to move forward with the allocation of the reserve funds. Plarr indicated that state amounts in upcoming budget years will not be favorable to Frontier, also noting rising Employee and Teacher Retirement System costs.

Teaching cuts are slated in the amount of 6.0 FTE in elementary education, including 4.0 reading positions, 1.0 special education and 1.0 SAIL; 2.0 in Frontier Middle School, with 1.0 through retirement in ELA, 0.6 through retirement in music, 0.2 in health with a nursing position and 0.2 in Family Consumer Science; and 7.1 FTE at Frontier High School, with 1.2 in technology, 1.0 in social studies, 1.0 in science, 1.0 through retirement in ELA, 1.0 in guidance counseling, 0.6 in reading, 0.6 in Family Consumer Science, 0.4 through retirement in music, and 0.3 in art. Support staff cuts are described as being 7.39 totally through retirement in buildings and grounds, with 3.0 laborer positions, 1.89 in cleaning, 1.0 apiece in groundswork and custodial and 0.5 in motor equipment operating; 7.0 in special education aides; 3.5 in clerk-typists, with 2.0 in district office retirements, 1.0 at the high school and 0.5 at the middle school; 2.31 in food service, with 1.62 cafeteria monitors and 0.69 food service helper; and 2.5 FTE “Other,” with 1.0 nursing, 1.0 COTA through a vacancy and 0.5 in transition specialist through a vacancy.

During the first public comment session, district reading specialist and parent Jennifer Lavelle asked district officials find money to combat the four slated reading position cuts, noting that such slashing accounts for one-third of the reading department. Lavelle also stated that Frontier’s reading specialists service 650 students in grades K-6, adding that 50 percent of youths who later, eventually develop substance abuse problems have accompanying reading disabilities. It was also indicated that newly implemented common core state reading standards could cause reading scores to drop by at least 30 percent.

Lou Ann Tarczynski, who serves as the president of the Frontier Central Registered Nurses Association, said the removal of a nursing position from the middle school health office would prove to be adverse. Tarczynski stated that two registered nurses have served in the middle school since 2003, jointly servicing a variety of needs. The elimination of the aforementioned position was stated as saving a salary of $23,310. However, Tarczynski described what she said is the multitude of duties the two nurses share, including a recent compilation of 7,175 office visits, including injuries, illnesses and other items; 1,569 medications provided; and 718 visits for special needs, including in some cases insulin pumps. In total, she said, there were 14,499 items of response in the health office, with an average of 80 students being serviced per day.

Relatedly, it was noted that seven-step processes are required for each student participating in an athletic event, speaking to a nurse in general in 1,200 related instances. Tarczynski said 90 girls signed up to try out for a cheerleading season, each required to go through the seven-step process with nurses.

“I understand that every (budgetary) dollar counts, but please consider (these listed health office statistics) before you make this cut,” Tarczynski said.

Pat Cannon, who serves as the chairperson of the high school guidance department, said losing another FTE guidance counselor- she noted that three counselors have been eliminated over the last four years- would be detrimental to the department and its students. If the slated position is eliminated, Cannon said, the resulting caseload for remaining counselors would include an additional 60 students per member, which is noted as being far above the state-suggested level. Currently, guidance counselors in the department service a total of 337 pupils.

Kris Passinault, president of the Frontier Central Employees Association, asked district officials to consider reinstating the noted ten staff members who remain on the preferred eligibility return list, citing the high-end number of retirees (13) in the district following the completion of 2012-13. Passinault stated, additionally, that 221 members of the FCEA had recently accepted a wage freeze, and that 40 staff members are slated to be impacted by budget constraints for 2013-14.

The proposed expenditure budget contains an increase from 2012-13 of $430,679, which represents a 0.59 percent hike. The listed tax rate increase of 3.51 percent represents the maximum allowable limit above 2 percent as part of the calculated tax cap formula. The tax rate of $25.20 per $1,000 of assessed district property represents a 3.08 percent (or 75-cent) rate hike. Tax bills for 2013-14 for district homes assessed at $70,000 are slated to stand at $1,763, which represents an increase from 2012-13 of $52.67, or $4.39 per month. Tax bills for homes assessed at $100,000 stand at $2,519.72, hiked $75.25 annually and $6.27 per month. Homes assessed at $130,000 are projected to have tax bills of $3,275.64, increasing $97.82 annually and $8.15 per month.

State aid is projected at $$27,488,898. Noted expenditure increases are outlined in the area of ERS (hiked $276,105, or 16.91 percent), TRS ($1,389,414, or 41.39 percent) and workers compensation ($79,340, or 12.65 percent). The annual budget vote takes place on Tuesday, May 21.

Board Member Thomas Best Jr. said depleting the fund balance reserves could in the future invoke the need for surpassing the tax cap levy and requiring at least a 60 percent voter approval of the budget. Board Member Martin Lalka said district officials’ top priority is educating students.

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