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Frontier School Board discusses cutting 35 staff members

More than 35 staff cuts could be incorporated into the Frontier Central School District’s 2013-14 budget, an amount described by district officials as hypothetically saving about $1.7 million as part of filling an existing budget gap of about $1.9 million.

It was stated during Tuesday’s (March 26) Frontier Central School Board meeting that preliminary budget cuts could include 19.8 full time equivalent support staff positions, to go along with 15.7 FTE teaching positions, with retirements accounting for salvaging $353,223 of the total $1.7 million in savings.Superintendent James Bodziak said that the areas of specified cuts have not yet been defined, although he added that such trimming is slated “across the board,” with various tweaking in the direction of cuts being considered. It was further reminded that such stated cuts are only hypothetical in nature.

Budget expenditures for 2013-14 currently are slated at $73,554,350, an amount that is decreased by $1,376,890 from the board’s March 12 meeting. A reduction of $676,890 from the 2013-14 preliminary budget incorporates decreases of about $178,000 in unemployment insurance; $153,000 in debt service; $50,000 in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities; $17,900 in athletics supplies and materials; $12,000 in transportation related to athletics; the aforementioned staff reductions related to retirements or individuals leaving the district; and eliminating field trips outside of the district and slightly trimming the BOCES budget.

Additionally, $700,000 was stated as being transferred into 2013-14 budget revenues from the area of anticipated savings from the 2012-13 budget.

The projected revenue budget for 2013-14 is slated at $72,373,154, which represents an increase of $838,689 from the board’s March 12 meeting. Such increases are defined in the amounts of $133,372 from building aid recalibration from the state; the aforementioned $700,000 in carry-over monies from the 2012-13 budget; and $5,317 in interest income. It was said that the amount of $133,372 would be salvaged amounts for the district to keep during the current academic year and next.

With a hypothetical $1.7 million being represented in staff cuts, both from physical bodies continually working in the district as well as retiring individuals, another $531,675 is stated as being needed to still be cut in order for the district to reach the tax cap levy. Bodziak said the possibility exists for still-awaited amounts from the areas of state aid and Erie County sales tax to cover some of the existing gap.

School Business Manager Richard Calipari stated the maximum tax cap levy increase for the district is slated at 3.51 percent, an amount that must be approved by at least a 50 percent plus one majority of voters. Any proposed tax cap levy amount above the listed 3.51 percent must be approved by least 60 percent of voters. If a tax cap levy amount above the 3.51 percent is voted down, a contingency budget with a “bare bones” fiscal outlook could be adopted. If the aforementioned budget tax cap amount is presented before residents a second time and again voted down, an even worse-case budget could ensue- described by Bodziak as having “massive, massive” adverse fiscal conditions and more cuts- in which the tax cap levy from the 2012-13 academic year (2.70 percent) would be again directed toward the district.

It was further noted that about $300,000 in monies represents 1 percent of a budget increase or decrease.

Calipari added that challenges facing Frontier have been presented during recent years through declining state going hand in hand with increasing pension costs. A projected, current state aid amount of $25,680,000 was noted as being significantly less than the 2007-08 aid amount of $29,450,035. Additionally, non-negotiable pension costs slated for Frontier total about $1.3 million, represented in amounts of $1.3 million in teacher retirement system costs and $300,000 in employee retirement system monies.

Various individuals during public comment session spoke against cuts involving teaching positions. District reading teacher Lynne Rosa stressed the importance of existing reading programs at the elementary school level, including research-based instruction. Reading teachers, Rosa said, are trained to compile Aims Web and Running Records data, while also analyzing students’ miscues and helping pupils to reach mandated and even higher plateaus of reading achievements.

“In the current state of things, (it’s understood) that any program is at risk for budgetary cuts,” said Rosa. “But to be proactive, I don’t think there is a (positive result from a cutting) decision…We motivate kids, (we’re) kind of like their coaches. We want kids to be literary, productive individuals.”

Renee Kumiega, who is the president of the Frontier Central Teachers Association, said she believes cutting teachers is detrimental to the education and well-being of district students.

“I’m pleading, even begging you, to consider the children of this district,” Kumiega stated to board members. “Please, keep in mind that any cut of a (staff member) or teacher will hurt a student.”

Several board members spoke sympathetically in regards to possible cuts of staff. Board President Janet Plarr said that district officials would be wise to wait until definite amounts of state aid and other incoming revenues are incorporated into the budget before making staff cuts.

“The last thing we ever want to do is hurt a family. There’s nothing worse than handing a pink slip to somebody. That’s the worst thing you can do,” said Plarr. “We’re dealing with the lives of about 30 families.”

Plarr and several other board members advised waiting until the board’s April 23 meeting before adopting a formal 2013-14 budget that incorporates any cuts, as Plarr added, “It isn’t fair to staff members to leave them hanging.”

Board members Patrick Boyle, Nancy Wood and Martin Lalka in particular also favored waiting until April 23 to formally adopt budget figures. Boyle said it is the responsibility of district officials to remain cognizant of employees’ and pupils’ academic needs while implementing a fair budget.

“We realize it’s about the students, and we walk the fine line (of budget planning and cutting),” said Boyle. “Please stay with us (in budget process planning).”

In other meeting action, a presentation on the district’s K-12 nursing services took place, during which time it was stated that 11 nurses encompass 10 buildings of instruction within the Frontier School District. Additionally serviced are 6,896 students and 900-plus staff members. A health mission statement in Frontier is directed as having a primary role of “promoting student achievement and academic success by providing nursing assessments and interventions that keep students at school and in the classroom.”

Frontier’s Professional Education Team under the health designation was said to include a social worker, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, guidance counselor, school pathologist, teacher, principal, School Resource Officer and Registered Nurse. A significant increase in complexity of student health needs is said to have occurred during the last decade, with chronic conditions including diabetes; asthma; life-threatening allergies; behavioral health issues such as eating disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, ACHD and others; seizures and bleeding; disabilities; and special needs requiring a skilled nursing program. The skilled nursing program includes two district nurses traveling on buses with at-risk students.

New standards of care under the area of health include the diagnosis of 20 percent of children and adolescents having a mental health disorder over the course of a year. Additional items include combating diabetes with the implementation of insulin pumps and carbohydrate counting; to go along with the evaluation of concussions through Return to Play and school guidelines and new research, as well as Impact Testing.

During the 2011-12 academic year, there were a reported number of 28,714 documented health-related visits across seven district buildings, to go along with 8,020 medication-administered cases and 4,237 special needs administered instances.

Non-documented occurrences under the area of district health involved sports, immunization review, telephone calls and verification of medical records.

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