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Audit review points to budget challenges facing Frontier School

FRONTIER — An external audit conducted in the Frontier Central School District found no questionable costs or irregular program spending, according to information presented at the board’s most recent meeting. Other points of the review, given at the Oct. 1 gathering, noted Frontier’s extensive fund balance allocation in budget planning, during the last three years.

John Schiavone, of auditing firm Lumsden & McCormick, presented data as part of the 2012 – 2013 fiscal review of Frontier.

Schiavone cited the district’s use of $11.3 million in fund balance reserves, combined during the fiscal years 2012 – 2013 ($1.7 million in such monies), 2011 – 2012 ($5.7 million) and 2010 – 2011 ($3.9 million).

Such funds were noted by School Business Manager Richard Calipari as keeping year-to-year tax increases minimal, while also offsetting uncontrolled items such as rising retirement system costs and New York state aid decreases. There is currently $7.1 million remaining in Frontier’s reserve funds, according to Calipari.

Schiavone described the amount of district reserves spent as an “erosion” of such monies. He additionally said that early data from the NYS comptroller’s office indicated a possible 2014 – 2015 tax cap levy (increase allowance) of 1.66 percent, lower than the 2 percent tax cap as part of fiscal budgets.

Any proposed tax hike above that projected total of 1.66 percent would need to be approved by at least 60 percent of district voters, more than the usual 50-percent-plus-one majority.

Schiavone advised district officials to sustain reserve monies as part of the 2014 – 2015 budget planning process, in response to Board Member Jack Chiappione’s question about whether or not he believed such funds should be touched, in the near future.

District officials acknowledged the difficulties facing Frontier, as well as other Western New York school districts, in regard to using reserve monies to balance budgets.

“All districts are in a similar boat,” said Board President Janet Plarr. “Some are worse off and not many are better.”

Board member Thomas Best Jr. said that district officials and community members must work closely together, to formulate essentials as part of a financially tight budget process.

“People are going to have to make a choice,” Best said, in regard to budgeted priorities.

Various other district audit findings for 2012 – 2013 included:

– Expenditures’ decreasing by 6.5 percent, with salaries down $1.8 million.

– Federal dollars’ decreasing by $2.5 million.

– Overall income’s falling $1.6 million, after a $5 million decrease in 2011 – 2012.

In other meeting action:
– The board welcomed Frontier High School senior Andrew Bojanowski as the ex-officio student member of the board of education for the school year.

– Molly Kacmarski and James Gleason will serve as the student representative alternates. This is the second year of Frontier’s having an ex-officio, non-voting student representative on its board.

– Interim District Superintendent Paul Hashem cited strong performances achieved by Frontier’s principals and teachers on a recent state grading system in regard to student growth and achievement. Other observations were included in the evaluation, graded on a “highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective” scale.

According to Hashem, each of Frontier’s principals and teachers scored on the higher plane of “highly effective” or “effective,” marking a district-wide success.

The next meeting of the Frontier Central School Board will take place at 7 p.m. on Oct. 15.

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