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The Frontier School District faces a nearly $2.4 million budget gap for the next school year, which could lead to reductions in staff and programs.

“We are going to have to look at some areas that are going to make us uncomfortable,” Superintendent James Bodziak told the School Board on Tuesday night after presenting a detailed preliminary budget overview for 2013-14.

“I know that’s a lot of money, but I’m positive we will meet that goal,” he said of closing the gap. “Our challenge will be to answer what is essential to our district mission.” A seven-point list of areas being scrutinized for possible reductions includes staffing, kindergarten through 12th grade programs, enrichment activities/field trips, extra-curricular activities/clubs, buildings and grounds, BOCES and athletics.

The big challenge is for Frontier to shave expenses to bring its budget to $71.67 million from $74.93 million. The budget gap had initially been $3.25 million, but $853,223 in reductions to the new budget plan brought the latest forecasted shortfall to $2.39 million.

Spending is predicted to increase by 3.66 percent for next year. The governor’s budget proposal calls for Frontier to receive $27.2 million in aid, reflecting an increase of $918,564 for 2013-14.

“I hope we don’t have to lay off teachers,” board member Jack Chiappone said.

Bodziak, who is asking for budget input from the board, pointed out the substantial costs within the budget –staffing and related expenses. As of Monday, Frontier projected an increase of nearly 23 percent in the cost of the employee retirement system, plus a 40.8 percent increase in teacher retirement system expenses. Unemployment insurance costs are expected to drop by 51 percent.

“You’re not going to find $2.4 million in transportation or athletics,” Bodziak said. “It’s in salaries, and we don’t want to devastate programs.”

Bodziak said the administration is considering not replacing some positions, but he did not elaborate.

Parent Mark Gillen expressed concern about a potential for significant layoffs, noting that if the entire $2.4 million shortfall came through staff cuts, that could amount to the equivalent of between 20 and 30 teachers.

Gillen, who said he knows school district’s budget woes are going to worsen in the next few years, said he would like to see Frontier consider using reserves to help spare layoffs even though he said he knows it pushes the problem to next year and the year after.

Bodziak listened, but also acknowledged that the district has to watch how much it continues dipping into its surplus since it used between $1 million and $1.5 million of it in the last few years. “This year, we’re saying not to touch the piggy bank,” he said. “There’s not a lot of money left in the piggy bank. We’re saying we’re going to keep our fingers out of the piggy bank.”

Enrollment is holding its own, but staying flat. Total enrollment this year is 4,984 and is expected to be 4,985 next year. A slight dip is expected at the Middle School level, while the High School expects to have 14 more students.

In other news, the board appointed Karen MacGamwell as interim assistant Middle School principal, effective until a permanent replacement is named. Frontier will pay her $350 daily..

email: krobinson@buffnews.com