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Frontier School Board adopts $72 million budget, restores 10 teachers

Residents of the Frontier Central School District can expect to see a tax rate increase of just over 2 percent as part of the adopted 2012-13 budget, a spending plan that includes the restoration of about 10 teaching positions to the originally outlined 40 cuts.

The Frontier Central School Board passed at Tuesday’s (April 3) meeting four resolutions that are proposition items to appear on the ballot during the district’s May 15 budget vote, one of which was adopting an expenditure budget of $72,285,048. The total includes a newly added $200,000 from the roughly $389,000 in unanticipated arriving New York State aid, with the remaining figure of about $189,000 being stocked into Frontier’s fund balance reserves. The expenditure budget, which has a decrease of just over 3 percent from the current year’s spending total, contains a tax rate increase of 2.19 percent from the 2011-12 amount, with a tax levy hike of 2.70 percent.

The tax rate amount is projected to be $24.47 per $1,000 of Town of Hamburg assessed property value, an increase of 52 cents from the 2011-12 rate of $23.95. Homes assessed at $100,000 will have a tax bill of $2,447.38 for 2012-13, a hike of $52.43. Comparably, homes assessed at $70,000 and $130,000 will have tax bills of $1,713.17 and $3,181.60, annual increases of $36.70 and $68.16.

The board passed the expenditure budget proposition unanimously, as well as Proposition No. 2, which is the purchase of eight school buses and grounds maintenance equipment- projected at a maximum estimated cost of $896,090.

Tuesday’s meeting featured the continuation of residents’ pleas to restore proposed budget cuts to various programs, particularly in the area of art. A packed audience again jammed into the Frontier Educational Center board room to listen to board members’ opinions regarding the budget parameters, as well as to voice their own individual thoughts regarding what they believe to be invaluable services offered by the district. District officials had outlined at the board’s last few meetings a fiscal plan that would include about 60 district-wide cuts in the areas of teaching and staff, but put forward an updated plan Tuesday that includes 29.1 teaching positions that are on the chopping block. District Superintendent James Bodziak said a total of nine teacher retirements slated for the end of the 2011-12 school year, to go along with a newly constructed Collective Bargaining Agreement between the district and the Frontier Central Teachers’ Association, approved Tuesday in a board resolution by a 6-2 vote, will help in allowing the restoration of just over 10 teaching positions. The specific areas of teaching restoration were not yet described at Tuesday’s meeting but were projected to be detailed by the end of the week.

Six teacher retirements were approved at the meeting, effective July 1, include Cynthia Cervoni, grade 6 at Frontier Middle School; Ellen Henry, social studies, Frontier Middle; Stephen Stamer, physical education, Frontier High; Debra D’Avanzato, special education, Frontier High; Marylou Kallin, grade 2, Pinehurst Elementary; and Mark Chavel, business, Frontier High. The retirements will accompany three previous, similar notices given and described by district officials at previous meetings. District officials and administrators described the actions as following a lengthy yet productive negotiating process between the district and the FCTA. Ellen Dunwoodie, who serves as president of the FCTA, said during public comment session that the union made considerable concessions and hopes that the district can reinstate as many teachers as possible. Board Vice President Stanley Figiel, who is the chairperson for the district’s negotiating team, said the collective bargaining agreement, which covers from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2016, completes nearly a year-long process that included many painstaking sessions.

“Both parties came together and an agreement was reached,” said Figiel. “We appreciate the input of (the FCTA). I believe it to be a fair contract.”

District officials at the board’s March 20 meeting had approved the appropriation of an additional $500,000 from the district’s fund balance reserves- enumerated on top of the already applicated $2.5 million total from $1.25 million apiece from the fund balance and reserve funds- to cover the remaining budget gap of roughly $155,000 and unemployment and retirement costs. In addition, such monies are said to be used to restore 1.0 full time equivalent positions at the elementary level- described as a contingent position at a “hot spot” amongst needy grade levels- and for the Student Assistance In Learning Program, also at the elementary level. The latter position comes following several consecutive meetings in which district residents spoke heavily in favor of keeping SAIL afloat as what was described to be an integral learning tool for a large number of requisite students. Further restored was also a 0.4-equivalent reading position.

During public comment session, Shelby Brown, who is a seventh grade student at Frontier Middle and who serves as a representative on the Middle School Student Council, protested the position cut of English Language Arts teacher Jason Hall. Brown presented the board with a petition of 106 signatures from seventh graders protesting Hall’s lay-off, noting that the teacher’s successful assistance to students in preparing for state assessment tests. In addition to numerous art program teacher restoration requests, a pair of district residents, one, a Frontier High senior male, and another, a department teacher/chair at Frontier High, asked that district officials be aware of the effective foreign language programs in the district and to maintain such resources. The male student, who said he’s attending the University at Buffalo next fall, stated that Frontier is one of the few high schools in the area that offers more than two foreign language options to students. The teacher/chairwoman went as far as to say that individuals who are exposed to more than one language often possess a stronger mental aptitude in their future endeavors.

“Frontier is synonymous with having a great foreign language department,” the woman said.

Salary reductions had accounted for about $1.9 million as part of Frontier’s budget planning process. In addition to the noticeable teaching cuts at the teaching level for Frontier High and Middle schools and the district’s elementary schools of Big Tree, Blasdell, Cloverbank and Pinehurst, staff reductions include 6.5 teacher aide positions and 2.5 library clerk positions among the roughly 20 district cuts.

Notable, athletic cuts include the elimination of freshman team programs in football, basketball, baseball and cheerleading, a measure that saves Frontier about $20,000, to go along with cutting all varsity and junior varsity tournaments, as well as slashing two modified “B” squads in football and boys lacrosse and consolidating into a single modified team in the respective sports. The latter two items would save the district a combined $23,466.

The district’s state aid for 2012-13 totals $27,665,674, although administrators warned that 2013-14 projections and thereafter do not seem to indicate a positive appearance. It was stated that the aforementioned $200,000 of the unanticipated $389,000 of aid that is being put into the expenditure budget is defined as on hand for emergency 2012-13 purposes, such as the hypothetical need for a teacher hiring in the wake of a sudden grade or class size growth. Assistant Superintendent of District Business Richard Binner warned board members to be cognizant of not depleting the district’s fund balance to a level that would be questionable in covering the upcoming years’ emergency needs in the face of the downward economic climate that Western New York school districts are battling.

In addition to the Propositions 1 and 2 to be put forth for public vote on Tuesday, May 15, district residents will also have the option of approving or rejecting two other items on the ballot.

Proposition No. 3, which includes the number of seats on the Frontier Central School Board being reduced from nine to seven, effective July 1, 2013, was approved as a ballot item by a board vote of 5-2, with Board Member Larry Albert abstaining.

Board Members Martin Lalka and Nancy Wood cast dissenting votes against the item, as Lalka stated that the measure would not save the district money, given that board members are serving as volunteers and are not paid a salary. Lalka had said at the board’s March 20 meeting that two board members had joined in signing a petition that was generated by a former district employee (Dennis Bailey) to downsize the board, adding that the petition-signing board members did not have suitable priorities. It was stated previously that the number of signatures on the petition had legally forced the downsizing measure to be brought before voters as a proposition item.

“It’s about power,” Lalka said in reference to the aforementioned board members’ actions. “Some people on the board want power, and some don’t. Do I want power? No. I’m here for the students.”

Figiel, a member of the Frontier board for several, said it had been long established that having nine board members was a proper way of representing the wide range of ideas across the large, centralized district. He added that individuals’ partaking in discreet activity and in a non-direct manner to the board was “a back-door approach.”

Further, fellow board member Jeremey Rosen stated that a recent check of board votes over the last few years has revealed a 90-percent ratio of votes being approved in a unanimous, 9-0 manner. Rosen directed such research in response to the assertion of the former district employee (Bailey) that the Frontier board was “split,” adding that just 10 percent of recent board votes were found to be 6-3 or closer in margin.

“It would be two less board members that would be involved on a committee (or another district function),” Rosen said in looking ahead to a possibly downsized future board with just seven members.”

Proposition 4, which is appointing a high school student to serve on the Frontier Central School District Board of Education as an ex-officio, non-voting member, effective July 1, 2012, was approved by a 8-0 margin for voter decision on the ballot.

The measure comes following several months of Frontier High senior Davis Podkulski, who serves as Frontier’s student government president- petitioning the board to allow a student to serve on the board.

A petition had been generated with what is described to be a sufficient number of signatures to bring the item as a proposition on May 15. Several board members had spoken against the idea in previous meetings, stating that the measure lacked proper planning from the standpoint of defined roles for the hypothetical student member, to go along with not having a selection process in determining such a member.

Lalka had stated at a prior meeting that the board welcomed student government input being directed to district officials in the public comment sessions. He questioned on Tuesday the material knowledge that district residents would have in voting for either Proposition 3 or 4, asking, “Why are we (proposing to be) downsizing by two (board members) and bringing one (student member) in?”

One such district resident, Michelle Grimm, said she was just as perplexed as Lalka in terms of Proposition No. 3 being on the ballot.

“How can we vote on the (board downsizing) issue if we don’t know why it’s being proposed?” asked Grimm.

District residents also have the option of voting in the board member election on May 15. Board members who are up for election on their five-year seats include Figiel and Board President Michael Comerford.

The next meeting of the Frontier Central School Board will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17 at the Frontier Educational Center board room, located at 5120 Orchard Avenue in Hamburg.


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