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Frontier proposes whittling reserves to save certain programs

HAMBURG — The lights are back on – figuratively and literally – at the moment, for Frontier High School’s night athletic events, following various adjustments presented during the board of education’s special April 14 meeting.

That addition, and a few other restorations explained in the board’s recent budget proposal on April 10, could come at the expense of a nearly depleted fund balance/reserves account.

The school board discussed the ongoing frustrations associated with this year’s budget and the tribulations facing next year’s fiscal plan, as the possibility of going over the tax cap levy in the future was mentioned as a likely necessary scenario.

In addition to restoring night lights – following a previous proposal that would have cut evening home games for Falcon football, soccer and lacrosse teams – other additions include a nurse practitioner position, a 1.0 full time-equivalent music teacher and some additional supervision for evening athletic contests.

Many parents and community members again spoke and advocated against cuts to various programs, particularly teaming at the middle school, as teachers spoke of the ensuing, unmanageable class sizes that would result from a “traditional” model.

Middle school teacher Mark Chrzanowski described record-high class sizes (with upward of 35 students per classroom) and record-low staff that would accompany this proposed model.

Subtracted adjustments to the 2014 – 2015 budget that furthered the April 10 meeting include decreasing $49,000 from the superintendent line; $36,000 from an additional laborer position, through retirement-attrition; $36,000 from an afternoon custodian position at Frontier High School; $12,000 through switching the athletic trainer provider; $10,646 from additional bus runs, with $6,101 of that in fuel reductions), and $5,000 from the area of managerial/confidential.

During the April 10 meeting, it was proposed that the district eliminate all after-school bus runs, except for athletics and detention. A proposed 27 position abolishments for 2014 – 2015, with 11.93 teacher/staff layoffs, were also proposed on April 10.

Nine co-curriculars at the middle school and 12 at the high school had been brought to the cutting block, with savings from those reductions estimated at approximately $25,000. Interim District Superintendent Paul Hashem had said that Frontier high and middle schools would still offer a combined 45 co-curriculars that carry an expense of more than $75,000.

An item of contention involved the use of the district’s fund balance/reserves. Frontier was reported as facing a remaining budget gap of $1,523,915, having already appropriated $1,464,188 from its reserves account.

Some district officials suggested using some combination of the remaining $1.25 million in the appropriated reserve account and monies in the worker’s compensation reserve account – bringing the total allocated reserves to about $2.9 million – to balance the budget.

It was added that, should the district appropriate such monies, approximately $426,000 would remain under the “reserve” designations in Frontier’s account. Frontier has appropriated approximately $14 million from its reserves account during the last five years, the same time period in which the state-instituted Gap Elimination Adjustment has removed funding from the district.

Board Member Patrick Boyle said that the district is on a dangerous slide, if it further depletes the fund balance and reserves. “We’d be at the bottom, then,” he said, adding that going over the cap next year is inevitable. “There are no good answers here.”

Other board members agreed that using so much of the reserves account is not preferable, but they added that district officials have few options beside exceeding the tax cap levy limit, which is currently assessed at a 1.46 percent increase. Exceeding that limit would require at least 60 percent voter approval, which board members said would probably be tough to garner.

“It’s too late in the game,” Board Member Martin Lalka said, regarding proposing a budget that exceeded the tax cap levy limit.

Fellow Board Member Larry Albert added that district officials would need to focus on proposing such a fiscal scenario on July 1, rather than close to the budget, if the situation warranted it. Albert cited a situation in the district in the 1980s, in which a committee was formed to promote Frontier taxpayers’ voting, following a failed budget occurrence.

“We’re cutting our kids’ education. We’re bleeding,” Board Member Thomas Best said, adding that he would be in favor of approving budgetary measures – including appropriating fund balance/reserves or exceeding the tax cap levy limit – that contain fewer cuts of teachers and program staff.

School Business Manager Richard Calipari said that every 1 percent greater than the tax cap levy represents approximately $357,000. The proposed expenditure budget for 2014 – 2015 was reported at the April 10 meeting as being $74,271,938.

Property taxes account for $36,227,031, while other monies include $28,841,877 in state aid; $5,313,404, Erie County sales tax and $2,425,438, miscellaneous. Per the discussed proposals, appropriated fund balance for 2014 – 2015 would jump from approximately $1.4 million to $2.9 million.

The board members had remained in executive session late into the night on April 10. The April 14 meeting ended with the board’s again going into executive session.

Frontier Central Employees Association President Laura Haas suggested that district officials seek further input from teachers and other employees, during the budget planning process. Others expressed disbelief in regard to proposed cuts’ once again hitting the middle school, as Chrzanowski noted that the number of teachers per subject area had already shrunk from eight to six.

The next regular meeting of the Frontier Central School District took place on April 22 at the Frontier Educational Center, located at 5120 Orchard Ave. in Hamburg.

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