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Night events for Frontier District athletics are on the docket as a proposed budgetary cut

HAMBURG — The range of budget cuts taking place in the Frontier Central School District could stretch as far as eliminating home night athletic events for varsity, junior varsity and modified sports, in 2014 – 2015.

That proposal was broached, during the school board’s April 10 meeting, a session that was once again filled to standing-room only capacity.

Sports affected by such action would include at least football, lacrosse and soccer, with the lights-off proposal slated to save at least $12,000.

Other reductions to the budget, many seen for the first time by board members during Thursday’s meeting, include abolishing 27 positions, although represented by only 11.93 teacher/staff layoffs, due to reorganizations and retirements of certain departments.

Proposed positions to be abolished are director of facilities (not filling a slot vacated by the retirement of longtime district employee Allan Brown), nurse practitioner, modified athletic trainer, laundry worker, two speech teachers, 10 classroom aides, 1.6 language teachers and two social workers. Other proposed, abolished positions include a 1.0 full time-equivalent each in music, social studies and science, to go along with part-time instructors in math and health.

Another reduction would include abolishing all after-school bus runs, except for athletics and detention. This proposed measure was estimated to save at least $80,000, as Interim District Superintendent Paul Hashem said that district officials had heeded statements made, during previous community forums, that indicated that parents were willing to pick up their children, if the situation necessitated it. Athletics reductions were said to save approximately $113,000, in the budget gap-closing process.

Previous meetings had also indicated a belief that some extracurriculars and clubs could be maintained through “pay for play,” or fundraiser initiatives.

The following middle school co-curricular positions were announced to be on the cutting block: Fidler’s Club Director ($1,759 stipend), Character Club, French Club 8, Jazz Club, Podcast Club, Ski Club, Social Club and publications advisor (Talon), all of which carry stipends of $983. Reductions in intramurals account for $800. At Frontier High School, the proposed slashing includes the following clubs with $983 stipends: art, band, broadcasting, Buffalo for Africa, chess, foreign language mentoring, French, music, ski and Spanish. Also included were assistant director of stage ($2,344) and marching band ($3,014).

Combined savings from these middle and high school club cuts represented approximately $25,000. It was added that, despite these proposed reductions, Frontier middle and high schools would still offer 45 co-curriculars for 2014 – 2015 that carry a cost of more than $75,000.

Reworking the middle school teaming model would feature changes to the seventh and eighth grade format, whereas the sixth grade model would remain the same. Other tweaks include reducing community education costs, changes said to represent $17,000 in savings.

Savings were reported as being generated through addition retirement incentives offered and accepted through the Frontier Central Teacher’s Association and Employees Association. Additional state funding was said to represent a bit more than $1 million to Frontier, to help close the financial shortfall. A spending freeze ($300,000 savings) and holding material/supply costs to their “lowest ever” total (currently at $70,024) were other items mentioned.

Board President Janet Plarr reminded those in attendance that such proposals are simply that: proposals. The board was scheduled to have a quick turnaround before meeting again on April 14, during a budget workshop.

The annual budget vote/school board election will take place between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 20.

The proposed expenditure budget for 2014 – 2015 is $74,271,938, with property tax accounting for $36,227,031; state aid, $28,841,877; Erie County sales tax, $5,313,404; miscellaneous, $2,425,438 and appropriated fund balance, $1,464,188.

Total salaries were represented in the sum of $38,708,605, along with $17,960,185 in employee fringe benefits; $6,189,804 in Boards of Cooperative Educational Services; $4,389,139 in contractual expenses and $3,494,334 in debt service. The property tax cap increase for the district is 1.46 percent.

District officials were said to have received information packets outlining updated budget parameters as late as April 9. Board Member Thomas Best described cuts that could extend to eliminating night athletic contests. “To shut the lights off at Frontier is like turning the lights out on the district,” he said. “The devastation of losing these jobs is eating at me. It’s wrong in every respect. We’ve got to turn the lights back on, literally.”

Fellow Board Member Larry Albert, a longtime advocate for music and arts programs, said that cuts to these and other programs tear at him. “I’ve been through this too many times,” he said. “Whatever time it takes to resolve this, I’ll put that time in. Frontier is my whole life. I pledge that you’ve got that time.”

“Music is one the jewels of the district,” Board Member Patrick Boyle said, additionally criticizing New York state Gap Elimination Adjustment mandates as robbing Frontier funding since 2010. He said that Frontier has allocated approximately $15 million in fund balance reserves, during the last five years, to offset such losses. The district’s remaining fund balance at year-end was said to be $6,521,601. It was added that GEA losses since 2010 have totaled $24,900,000 at Frontier.

Board of Education members emerged to the Frontier Educational Center boardroom an hour and 10 minutes after the scheduled start of the regular meeting, following an executive session that included three contractual matters and one personnel matter.

The public comment session included several students, teachers and community members’ advocating against cuts to music, art, counseling, BOCES transportation and other areas. Middle School teacher Shannon Gonzalez described proposed teaming changes as adverse, adding that class sizes could swell to unmanageable levels.

District resident Nancy Olson added that administrator salaries reach as high as $100,000 at times, while other cuts are made. Michael Springer spoke of the importance of the role of the nurse practitioner, an individual he noted as helping to save lives.

Board Member Lynn Szalkowski said that she wished district officials had internally discussed budget parameters further, before releasing such proposals publicly, at the meeting.

“The board has got to get together and sharpen pencils,” fellow Board Member Jack Chiappone said.

Plarr said that district officials should consider the possibility of eliminating all after-school bus runs, should it continue down this road.

“Our business is education,” she said, adding, in reference to detention bus runs, “Quite frankly, if [a student] gets in trouble, let your parents pick you up.”

Hashem said that, if the budget is voted down and a contingency fiscal plan ensues, approximately $1.2 million more would need to be cut from expenditures.

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