Early budget projections for the Frontier School District point to a tax increase
BY: Steve Dlugosz | January 18, 2012
Frontier School District residents could be facing a tax rate increase of more than 3 percent with an annual hike of as much as $75 for homeowners’ property assessed at $100,000, as part of the district’s budget plan for 2012-13.
Administrators at Tuesday’s (Jan. 10) Frontier Central School Board meeting discussed ongoing budget issues facing the district, including the tax cap levy limit, appropriated use of fund balance and New York State aid. Board members appeared to be in favor of moving forward under the legal parameters of incorporating a tax rate increase for 2012-13 of anywhere from 2 to 3.14 percent from the current year rate of $23.95 per $1,000 of assessed property value, with an accompanying overall district tax levy hike in the range of about $800,000 to $1.2 million. Any proposed tax rate increases beyond 3.14 percent, said Assistant Superintendent of District Business Richard Binner, would require at least 60 percent voter approval, more than the regular 50 percent accepted ratio under the 2 to 3.14 tax hike range.
Included in a tax cap worksheet presented at the meeting was that as part of a 3.14 percent tax rate increase, a total tax levy of $34,069,769, would be proposed under a 2 percent tax levy calculation. A tax rate of $24.70 per $1,000, meaning an increase of 75 cents from the current fiscal budget, would also be directed, to go along with an annual tax bill hike of $75.16 for homeowners having district property assessed at $100,000. Comparably, under a 2 percent tax rate hike, an annual tax bill increase of $47.97 would be directed for homeowners, accompanied by a $24.43 tax rate, the latter being a 48-cent increase. With a 2 percent tax rate increase, the overall tax levy would be slated at $33,694,769.
Total revenues projected under the adjusted tax levy cap option are slated at $73,888,407, including $34,069,769 in real property tax; $26,755,042 in state aid; $5,367,710 in Erie County sales tax; $5,250,000 in appropriated fund balance/reserves; and $2,445,886 in miscellaneous funds. The 2011-12 budget includes $74,625,064 in total revenues, with $32,889,500 in real property taxes; $28,388,387 in state aid; $5,731,909 in appropriated fund balance; $5,237,100 in Erie County sales tax; and $2,378,168 in miscellaneous monies.
Binner said that putting together a budget that is both practical in maintaining important district programs, while limiting the adverse affects on taxpayers’ wallets, is again a challenge facing the Frontier District.
“We have very tough choices ahead of us,” said Binner. “It’s not a pretty picture...We may not be able to keep (the 2012-13) property tax increases at less than $50.”
Board Member Janet Plarr continued stating her belief that the district cannot dip too far into its fund balance to satisfy short-term desires. Rather, she said, Frontier should come up with a strategy over the long haul.
“We cannot decimate our reserves. It would be putting off the inevitable,” Plarr said in reference to what could be a double-digit tax increase down the road if the district does not incorporate gradual, hand-in-hand tax rate hikes with responsible fund balance usage. “Make the hard cuts and the hard decisions. We can’t look at this from year to year. We need a five-year plan.”
Superintendent James Bodziak said Frontier administrators are again seeking ways to make necessary cuts in district programs, including scrutinizing the areas of staff reductions through attrition; buildings and grounds; transportation; BOCES; athletics; extracurricular activities and clubs; enrichment activities, including field trips and assemblies funded through the budget; K-12 class sizes; K-12 programs; and staffing throughout the district.
Board Vice President Stanley Figiel recommended that the district be vigilant in maintaining safety programs.
Also at the meeting, administrators discussed the recent, ongoing issue of proposing a student representative serving on the school board. Bodziak said following the most recent school board meeting on Dec. 20, during which Frontier High School senior Davis Podkulski, who serves as the student government president, petitioned for the board to enact a policy to allow a student representative to serve on the board, research on the matter led to the finding that the board can adopt the item to be brought as a proposition for voters in the May budget vote.
District officials said the matter will undergo further discussion before it can be officially enacted as a voter proposition. Board Member Jack Chiappone, a proponent of having a student serve as an ex-officio board member, suggested the item be presented in a board resolution to subsequently be propositioned for voter decision. However, Plarr warned that the district should present the public with a detailed overview of such a proposition before the matter is voted upon, as is the case with other propositioned items in past budget votes, such as last year’s approved $29.75 million capital project.
It was also stated during the meeting that a 28-member student advisory cabinet, comprised primarily of student government pupils in grades nine through 12, has existed in recent years at Frontier High School, meeting on a monthly basis to discuss district topics, such as various projects and student decorum.
Podkulski, who was again in attendance at the meeting, thanked the board for considering the student-on-board option and reiterated his hope that the board bring the item as a proposition before voters. It was stated that if propositioned, the item would include a two-year existence term that would need to be approved periodically.
Another topic at the meeting was an information technology update, presented by Deborah Gromek, who serves as Frontier’s coordinator of technology education. Gromek said year two of the Parent Portal system in the district, which serves as an efficient log-in tool for both parents and students to use in viewing academic progress, is going according to plan. Included as part of the district-wide Infinite Campus overview, the Parent Portal currently has had 26,504 log-ins from high school and middle school students, averaging 1,461 hits per week. Parent log-ins on the program total 11,552, a weekly average of 637. At the elementary school level, Gromek said, there are 1,568 parental log-ins, totaling 87 weekly hits.
“It’s incredible how much information is out there that our parents can see,” said Gromek, who added that report cards can be viewed three to four days before they arrive in mailboxes. “There are no (progress) secrets, no waiting five weeks.”
Bodziak said future endeavors could soon include having electronic report cards available, to help present cost savings on at least paper products.
Technological advances in Frontier also include the use of Smart Boards, iPods and iPads among students and teachers, including notebook lessons that allow absent pupils to view actual lessons. Substitute teachers additionally can use Smart Boards to play lessons designed by regular teachers who may be absent during a particular class or school day. Also, teachers have increasingly used website pages to post class material.
Also included as part of the Infinite Campus system is the ability through active directories of monitoring all computer activities, to log teachers’ sign-ins to protect password entries. Also logged are all students’ computer activities and server spaces. Gromek said it is hoped that future plans could include accessibility of individual accounts from outside Frontier.
Special education students in particular, Gromek added, have especially responded well to use of iPads. For all students in general, she said, test accomodations have been made easier through iPods, to go along with letter and number practicing through Smart Boards. Also, an iPad application has been downloaded to assist students who struggle in the area of reading.
“They take the devices, and just go with it,” Gromek said of students’ academic progressions made through technological items.
Other hopeful plans for future district technology include upgrading infrastructure, replacing elementary school computers for the 2012-13 school year, as well as increasing the number of mobile carts.
The next meeting of the Frontier Central School Board will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan.24 at the Frontier Educational Center board room, located at 5120 Orchard Ave., in Hamburg.