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Frontier School District seeks savings, while avoiding essential cuts

HAMBURG — After enduring what they called significant teaching and support staff cuts in back-to-back years, some Frontier School District officials said that they are determined to not allow more layoffs to occur, as part of the 2014 – 2015 budget crunching process.

This and other fiscal planning items – including ways the district is currently producing savings – were discussed during the Jan. 29 budget workshop of the Frontier Central School Board.

It was reported that Frontier’s total 2013 – 2014 staffing stands at 818.80, including 399.30 full-time equivalent teachers, 370 support staff and 49.50 other district employees.

Support staff decreased by 22 from 2012 – 2013, to the current academic year, dropping from 392 to 370; teaching numbers fell by 9.8 FTE, from 409.10 to 399.30; other district employees – including FCASA administrators, managerial/confidential, FCRNA nurses, and central administration, among others – decreased by 7.5, from 57 to 49.5.

Many cuts were made to these aforementioned employee areas, during the 2012 – 2013 budget planning process. Board Member Thomas Best Jr. said that district officials must be cognizant of the prioritized requests of the community and be transparent, when outlining intentions, this year.

“I’m done laying people off,” he said, explaining that, when decisions about what to cut are made, “there’ll be a room full of people advocating that we shouldn’t.”

Decreased state aid, widening budget gaps and shrinking property tax caps were challenges the board said have been brought to Frontier and many other Western New York school districts, during recent years.

School Business Manager Richard Calipari and Interim district Superintendent Paul Hashem said that building administrators have been, and will be, made aware of the financial restrictions placed on the district, moving forward.

“We’re going to have to find some creative ways to lessen the hit,” Hashem said. “Our building principals are very passionate and want the best programs.” He added that, until these individuals are brought

together for future budget planning sessions, they may not fully understand the big fiscal picture.

Calipari said that budget revenue is going down, year to year. “I’ve made it brutally cold to [administrators] that we don’t have the money,” he said, adding that tax legislation is to blame for the restrictions.

The New York state allowable growth factor for Frontier shrank from 2 percent to 1.46 percent, representing an initial decrease of $555,866 in levy revenue. Total budgeted expenditures from 2013 – 2014 to 2014 – 2015 are projected to decrease from $73,215,727 to $73,133,387. Despite noted decreases to state aid and budget gaps requiring the district’s allocation of its fund balance, it was reported that auditors criticized significant “dipping in” to the reserves account, creating a no-win situation for Frontier.

From 2012 – 2013 to 2013 – 2014, at the district buildings, overall elementary faculty decreased from 193 to 189.8, while combined middle and high school faculty dropped from 216.1 to 208.5. District Boards of Cooperative Educational Services aid from NYS for 2014 – 2015 is slated to decrease by $261,526, dropping from $1,854,654 to $1,593.

Colleen Duggan, who serves as the district’s director of pupil personnel services, described cost savings that the district is pursuing.

She said that Frontier had secured Model Transition Program Grant funding to sustain services for students who need related assistance. Additionally, increased digital communication included converting three of six district newsletters to digital, rather than print, as well as having most report cards and employee policy communication posted online, rather than in hard copy.

It was noted that, in each grading period, the number of hard-copy report cards has been reduced from approximately 1,600 to 80, resulting in a savings in printing costs.

Other items that Duggan mentioned included monitoring enrollment, in wake of the recent announcement of local Catholic schools’ closing, an event that could affect district classroom sizes; Annual Professional Performance Review monitoring and evaluation; request for proposal regarding a potential grant writer and completion, submission and monitoring of prekindergarten and consolidated grants; the district’s conducting a special education department study and Frontier’s collaborations with the Hamburg and Lake Shore districts, regarding self-contained classes and other areas.

Deborah Gromek, who is the district’s coordinator of technology education, spoke about various cost savings in the area of information technology.

Frontier submitted a grant as part of the Microsoft Voucher Program, to receive $32,050 to be used in part to purchase new iPads® for elementary students. Additionally, use of the Parent Portal in Infinite Campus in all grades was described as very popular, as Gromek said that recent logins totaled nearly 2,000, per week.

Progress reports are also available for view on the Parent Portal. Nearly all of the district’s library card catalogues are now automated and tracked online.

Gromek said that district officials are also seeking continued ways of obtaining reimbursements through BOCES, in the scenario of “aidable” returns.

Myra Pinker, the district’s assistant superintendent of personnel, said that Frontier has extensively challenged unemployment claims and is additionally diligent in challenging non-legitimate worker’s compensation claims.

It was reported that the district has received more than $20,000 in related positive credits, since July 1.

A synergistic energy savings study for the district is designed to produce considerable cost savings, Pinker said.

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