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Frontier School District looking at $2.9 million budget gap

Frontier Central School District could be in for “draconian and crazy” cuts if state financial aid is not increased this year, Superintendent Bret Apthorpe said.

But he does not recommend cutting clubs, sports and other extracurricular activities again this year.

“Clubs and sports are a critical part of education here at Frontier,” he said Tuesday night, telling School Board members about one football player he met who was having a hard time at home, and how belonging to the team helped him.

Extracurriculars provide a connection for students to the school community, as well as help teach traits such as resilience, he said.

“A lot of cuts have been made in those areas the last three years,” he said, adding sports and clubs cost “pennies on the dollar.”

“I’ve waited 44 years to hear a superintendent say that,” said Board Member and former music teacher Larry Albert.

But Frontier is facing another daunting budget.

Carrying over the current year’s budget to next year will cost $78.45 million, and under one of the most optimistic aid scenarios, the district could face a gap of $2.9 million between expenditures and revenues.

That takes into account a reduction of $233,000 in various non-classroom programs, including laying off a nurse practitioner, nurse and another staff position. It also includes a savings of $1.3 million if 15 of the 27 employees who are retiring are not replaced.

The superintendent is hopeful the State Legislature and governor will agree on an increase in aid. If not, “extreme cuts” of up to 39 additional positions would have to be made to close the gap, he said.

If the district added teachers to the Middle School, where some class sizes are as high as 36 students, the gap could jump to $3.2 million. And under the worst case scenario of no increase in aid, the district would face a gap of $5.65 million, Apthorpe said.

“I am optimistic that the legislature and governor are going to come up with something better than what the governor proposed,” he said.

School districts have complained that they are being forced to create a budget without knowing what type of aid they might receive, since the governor took the unusual step of not releasing figures for each school in his budget proposal. About 200 staff members, administrators, parents, board members and students held a rally outside Blasdell Elementary School before Tuesday’s board meeting to demand fair funding from Albany.

The state has held back aid, known as the gap elimination adjustment, for several years, and Frontier has been using fund balances from previous years to help make up the difference. Without the fund balance, the district’s expenses would be larger than its revenues, which eventually will lead to bigger budget problems, the superintendent said.

“This is the trend we have to break out of,” Apthorpe said, adding that most of the fund balance is gone.

He said he hopes to get more specific information about state aid next week. The state budget is supposed to be adopted by April 1. The School Board has meetings April 14 and 21, and may need to add another meeting next month, depending on what comes from Albany.