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Frontier officials eye program cuts to help eliminate the budget gap

A PACKED HOUSE — Frontier sophomore Darren Hoerner is pictured speaking against possible cuts to modified sports at the standing room-only March 25 Frontier School Board meeting. Photo by Steve Dlugosz.
HAMBURG — Pleas to sustain modified sports and arts programs were heard during the March 25 Frontier Central School Board meeting, as school officials continued to weigh cuts to eliminate a nearly $3 million budget gap by the board’s next meeting.

Interim District Superintendent Paul Hashem assured those in attendance at the packed meeting that program areas considered for cuts will remain at least partially intact in 2014 – 2015, and added that tweaks will be considered or incorporated.

He reported that school officials will present a preliminary balanced budget that will detail reductions and costs associated with such cuts, to go along with potential “Pay for Play” parameters that would indicate needed funding. This presentation will be held during the board’s next meeting, scheduled for Thursday, April 10 at the Frontier Educational Center, located at 5120 Orchard Ave. in Hamburg.

“We do have an obligation to get to a zero budget, and we’re looking to do that as equitably as possible,” Hashem said. “We’re still going to have art, music, sports, electives, social workers, counselors, [Advanced Placement] courses, bus transportation, an art show and other items for 2014 – 2015. And we’re still going to have Frontier staff that cares for our Frontier children. There’s not a board member, administrator or staff member who wants to make a single cut.”

A review of up-to-the-minute look at finances revealed a remaining budget gap of $2,987,621, as projected 2014 – 2015 expenditures ($74,908,826) outweighed revenues ($71,921,205).

School Business Manager Richard Calipari said that a budget gap of more than $4 million had existed, two weeks earlier. Several district officials spoke against state Gap Elimination Adjustment mandates that have taken chunks out of Frontier’s available financial resources, during the last five years. Hashem estimated that $4.3 million in such funds has been taken away from Frontier for 2014 – 2015, with a total of almost $25 million lost to the district, since 2010.

District resident and parent Mark Gillen has spoken about the possibility of establishing “Pay for Play” guidelines through booster clubs – measures adopted in other Western New York districts, during recent financial crunches – adding that he would be willing to be active in such a capacity, provided financial numbers are given, to outline such a scenario.

“Prepare thyselves,” Gillen said to those in attendance at the meeting, in regard to possible cuts. “See the train coming.”

Several others spoke about the need to maintain modified sports, including Frontier High School athletes Darren Hoerner, Hannah Kennedy, Vernon Grace, Amy Jordan (recent graduate), Adrian Cannon, Griffin Fitzpatrick and Ryan Harvey; parent and district teacher Jeffrey Johnston and parent Anne Licata.

“Research supports student success in all grades,” Johnston said, in reference to those who are involved in modified sports. “The biggest discipline problems are presented at times between modified sports [seasons].”

“Football has lit a fire under me,” added Hoerner, a sophomore at Frontier. “Modified sports teaches so many goals; so many tasks. It’s led me to have more confidence in the classroom.” He asked that district officials think about what they could be taking away from future seventh and eighth grade students.

Jordan said that cutting modified sports would present Frontier with a disadvantage at the junior varsity and varsity levels against other schools who have full modified, preparatory programs. Licata said that sports have taught her daughters and son (A.J., who earned All-Western New York honors in football this year) valuable time management and organizational skills.

Cannon described Frontier’s football journey this year to the Sectional VI championship as “the memory of a lifetime,” a trip that was formulated years ago at the modified level.

“Coach told us back then that we had the chance to accomplish something at the varsity level that hadn’t been done in a long time,” Cannon said. “As a senior this year, we did that. It’d be a huge mistake to cut modified football, modified soccer, modified anything. It’s more than just a scoreboard.”

Others defended the art programs. Local parent and teacher Laura Glista noted that the district has already reduced the number of art teachers from 16 to 12, in recent years. Deb Townsend, Rachael Weiss, Tim Lenton and Jack Bova were other residents who spoke against program cuts, including art.

Hashem said that the following non-mandated areas or initiatives are being considered within various cuts or tweaks, adding that such possibilities are hypothetical in nature: all late bus runs (non sports-related), which would account for $145,000 in savings; reducing classroom aides; reducing by one full time-equivalent administrator and one librarian in the district; athletics, with the amount of modified cuts or tweaks yet unknown and some co-curricular activities.

Additional ideas include moving an art teacher to either the high school or middle school; adjusting some courses/programs at the elementary and high school levels; reducing material and supply costs; reducing Boards of Cooperative Educational Services costs; seeking additional retirement incentives to offer to employees; lobbying for additional bullet aid and funding from NYS; reductions in community education printing, reported as saving about $17,000, and shopping for district insurance.

The interim superintendent added that Frontier is also looking into entering a computer/energy saving program that is funded through the NYS Energy Resource and Development Authority. It was reported that electrical savings in another, comparable, district accounted for nearly $7,000, with costs’ decreasing from $8,554 to $1,688.

If the final crafted budget is rejected by voters (twice, on the initial proposal and subsequent re-vote), a contingency budget was said to necessitate another $1.2 million in cuts. Hashem said that it is still unknown how much additional state aid the district will receive, to help close the budget gap. The state’s allowable growth factor for Frontier is 1.46 percent.

It was added that the district will likely not allocate significant amounts from its already depleted fund balance/reserves account, from which $2,611,000 was expended for 2013 – 2014.

The board accepted the following staff retirements, effective the end of this school year:

– Ellen Dunwoodie, physical education, Blasdell Elementary – 31 years in the district.

– Deborah DiVita Cleary, special education, Big Tree Elementary.

– Patricia Kunselman, library media specialist, Cloverbank Elementary.

– Mary Gorthy, school lunch monitor, Blasdell Elementary.

–Debra Young, food service helper, Cloverbank Elementary.
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