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Frontier Central School District weighs adding 25 teachers for $2.1 million

Frontier Central School District, which has lost about 70 staff positions in tough budgets in recent years, would hire 25 teachers for the next school year, under the superintendent’s proposal.

But it’s a long time until the budget vote in May.

The new teachers would cost $2.1 million in salaries and benefits, and some School Board members question adding that much in new costs to the budget.

“It isn’t fair to let people think they’re going to get things and then the Board of Education is like taking a pin and popping a kid’s balloon,” board President Janet MacGregor Plarr said. “We’re the ones who are going to have to come back and say ‘No, you can’t have that.’ ”

Instead of figuring out how much it would cost to carry over all the current programs and staffing to next year, Superintendent Bret Apthorpe looked at the needs of each school. “Last year, the budget development was literally backing into a number that would keep the district solvent, meaning having enough cash to pay its bills,” Apthorpe said.

This year, administrators identified key areas needing resources.

They found that in kindergarten through fifth grade, 20 to 40 percent of students are reading below grade level.

At the middle school, twice as many students failed math, and 85 percent more failed English, compared with five years ago.

And at the high school, the passing rate in the Regents exam in global history and geography went from 86.9 percent in 2010 to 75.4 percent last year.

“My work is not letting the status quo be the new norm, because it’s not OK,” Apthorpe said.

In this draft of the budget, spending would rise by $3 million from last year, to $80 million, an increase of 4 percent.

But rather than sending a message to board members, Apthorpe is hoping to sway state lawmakers.

“This budget is more a message to the Legislature that quality education requires they live up to their funding responsibility,” he said.

There is good news in the budget. While there is a record low tax cap in the state this year under the state formula, Frontier’s cap with exclusions is 2.3 percent. That means the district could raise the tax levy 2.3 percent, or $862,000, on a simple majority vote. A tax levy over the tax cap would require approval from 60 percent of voters.

The board will get a look at estimated revenues and options for closing the gap at its meeting March 1.