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Frontier officials face current budget gap of $4.2 million, seek end to other losses

HAMBURG — Closing a budget gap of approximately $4.2 million, while stopping further losses through the state-implemented Gap Elimination Adjustment, was on the minds of Frontier Central School District officials, during the Feb. 25 meeting.

It was reported that Frontier officials have, at most, two months to determine a way to close the existing 2014 – 2015 budget gap of $4,236,637, as projected expenditures stand at $75,294,228 and projected revenues are said to be $71,057,651.

It was added that, since the GEA was implemented in school districts in 2010 as a “one-time” expense to assist in balancing the New York state budget, Frontier has lost about $24.7 million in K-12 aid funding, during the past five years. District officials reported that, due to these GEA losses, Frontier and other districts currently receive less overall aid than the amount received in 2008 – 2009.

Following those laments, Frontier School Board members unanimously passed a resolution that called upon the NYS Legislature to immediately exempt state aid for education from the calculation of the GEA. It was projected that the district will lose $4,386,971 in GEA funds in 2014 – 2015, with 2013 – 2014 losses totaling $4,658,519; $6,208,498 in 2011 – 2012 and $4,169,437 in 2010 – 2011. It has been reported that there was a 13.1 percent decrease in total NYS aid since 2008 – 2009, dipping from $29,045,033 to a projected total of $25,254,474 (without building aid) for 2014 – 2015.

Board President Janet Plarr said these losses make the already difficult budget planning process that much tougher.

“It’s really disappointing and disconcerting that state leaders don’t take the education of our students seriously,” Plarr said. “Something’s got to give, in New York state. It’s upsetting, because the general public doesn’t know the obstacles we come up against. [Losses in state funding] affects our kids and our neighbors’ kids.”

Board Member Thomas Best Jr. added, “If politicians don’t come through, doomsday is here.”

District officials said that Sen. Mark Grisanti’s office has been open to assisting Frontier and other districts in the process to slow/eliminate GEA cuts. Other board members expressed a belief that raising property taxes will be a tough sell to district voters.

“Going over the budget cap is a real gamble,” said Board Member Larry Albert, who cited a situation in Clarence that recently caused turmoil in the local community, regarding the fund balance reserves.

Frontier High School Principal Jeff Sortisio; Middle School Principal Barbara Shea; athletics, health and physical education District Director Richard Gray and Director of Pupil Personnel/Chair of Committee on special education Colleen Duggan each presented student and staff numbers from their department areas.

There are currently 1,133 middle school students, including 344 in sixth grade, 372 in seventh grade and 417 in eighth grade; high school enrollment is 1,604, including 353 freshmen, 411 sophomores, 422 juniors and 418 seniors. Sortisio added that, although district officials are crunching enrollment numbers for next year, it is anticipated that more staff could be requested, to appease slightly larger classes.

The principal added that a successful transition has been implemented in shifting most freshmen classes to the south wing of the building, because of locker proximity.

Duggan reported 532 special education students from the middle and high school combined, including 71 in sixth grade, 88 in seventh grade, 85 in eighth grade, 83 in ninth grade, 74 in 10th grade, 69 in 11th grade and 62 in 12th grade. She added that students’ needs are determined in yearly interviews, with a focus on establishing a less-restrictive environment.

There are 21.8 full time-equivalent special area teachers at Frontier High and 21.4 at Frontier Middle, with art’s including 2.4 for the middle school and four at the high school; business, two FTE at the high school; family and consumer science/home and careers, 2.4 at the middle school and one at the high school; library, one each at the middle and high schools; music, six at the middle school and four at the high school; technology, three middle and two high school; health, 1.6 middle and 1.8 high school; and physical education, five at the middle school and six at the high school.

According to Gray, 26 of Frontier’s 28 district teams were designated as New York state scholar athlete squads, from spring 2013 to the current winter season.

There are currently 1,412 total athletes, including 761 males and 651 females. There are 702 varsity athletes, to go along with 251 participating in junior varsity, and 459 involved in modified sports.

Athletes representing grade levels include 91 in seventh grade, 368 in eighth grade, 113 in ninth grade, 138 in 10th grade, 330 in 11th grade and 372 in 12th grade.

The interim district superintendent said that the three main goals as part of Frontier’s 2014 – 2015 fiscal plan are compiling a balanced budget, garnering a successful budget vote in May and crafting a budget that covers long-term needs, in the wake of a permanent school chief that will take the helm July 1.

“We’re going to be successful,” Hashem said. “I’m doing [budget planning] as transparently and smartly as I can. I certainly don’t want to wait until the 11th hour [to incorporate last-minute fiscal changes].”

Other projected 2014 – 2015 budgeted amounts include $1,250,000 in fund balance reserves; $5,369,429 in Erie County sales tax and $2,425,438 in miscellaneous revenues.

There is a projected increase of 7.53 percent in teacher retirement system costs, rising from $4,745,949 in 2013 – 2014 to $5,103,423 in 2014 – 2015. Additionally, district salary costs are slated to increase by 3.9 percent, bumping from $38,428,284 to $39,925,170.

District officials had spoken their plan to review all possible cuts from various areas of non-mandated programs. A presentation from district transportation and buildings and grounds was scheduled to take place at the school board’s March 4 budget work session.

In other board matters:

– The board unanimously accepted the resignation for retirement of Director of District Facilities Allan Brown, effective July 1. Brown has worked in the district for 18 years.

– Young + Wright Architectural representatives said that the district’s capital improvement project is currently in Phase II, with Phase I work completed. Phase III work is currently under bid. Mentioned items of progress include a new media center – which is noted as having new furniture, bookcases, waiting area/lounges and circulation desks – as well as secured building entrances.

The next regular meeting of the Frontier Central School Board will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 25 at the Frontier Educational Center, located at 5120 Orchard Ave. in Hamburg.

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