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Frontier adopts $73.2 million budget, uses reserves to cushion job cuts

The Frontier School Board adopted a $73.2 million budget Tuesday night that calls for the elimination of 24.8 full-time equivalent teachers and support staff for the 2013-14 school year. The board also decided to apply an additional $500,000 of reserve money to the budget in the hope of being able to restore some positions.

The board had been set to adopt a slightly smaller budget but, in the end, voted 7 to 2 to adopt a budget that added the reserve money to cushion the projected staff cuts, though no guarantees were made.

The new budget, which goes before voters May 21, would increase spending by 1.29 percent and raise the tax levy by 3.5 percent, the maximum allowed. As a result, the tax rate would increase by 3 percent, putting it at $25.20 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

For those owning a home assessed at $100,000, that would mean a tax bill increase of $75.25.

The last-minute changes made by the board to increase the amount of reserve money used in the new spending plan mean the district will spend $2.61 million in total reserve money toward next year’s expenses.

Allocating more reserve money goes against what district administrators had insisted against doing earlier in the budget process. The district had said it would not dip into its piggybank this time.

“It was the lesser of two evils. The board was very judicious in determining whether it wanted to go into reserves and determining how much it would spend,” Superintendent James Bodziak said afterward.

The withdrawal of reserves would leave the district with $719,524 in unappropriated reserve money, with $3.66 million in its workers’ compensation reserve fund, district officials said.

The board room was packed with about 85 residents, some of them teachers and district staff, along with parents. Many spoke and pleaded with the district not to cut some of its reading specialists, a guidance counselor at the high school, field trips and one of two Middle School nurses.

“If you think this budget stinks, wait ’til next year,” Board President Janet Plarr said, blaming state government for not funding education adequately. “We can take additional money from reserves, but those reserves are going to run dry.”

The board supported spending an additional $500,000 in reserves and promised to review with the administration the proposed cuts in programs and staff before deciding how it will be spent.

“We’re just giving ourselves a little leverage to decide what we can restore,” Plarr said, but she warned there is no guarantee on which jobs could be restored.

The board’s decision was met with applause by the audience.

“By taking this money out of the reserve fund, it’s not coming out of the tax levy,” School Board member Thomas Best Jr. said.

“I’m sick about this. I’ll support this budget, but I’m not happy to have jobs cuts,” board member Larry Albert said. “But the alternative – to not support this – is really devastating.”