Frontier’s School District’s budget ax fell hard Tuesday night, hitting at least 24.8 full-time-equivalent teachers and support staff for next year as part of the district’s adopted $73.2 million budget.
It was a move the School Board had to take, because it already was factored into the 2013-14 spending plan that the board adopted in April and voters approved in May.
But criticism by teachers, union representatives and some parents was strong again Tuesday night before the board voted to eliminate the positions and place some of the affected staff on preferred eligibility lists for recall.
It also comes as the board continues to weigh how to spend an additional $500,000 in reserve money it agreed to add to the budget in April, with the hope of being able to restore some positions.
The strain on the board was clearly visible, particularly when the members voted on a motion to abolish the full-time equivalent of 12.1 teachers, effective July 1. The motion failed in a 5 to 4 vote. Almost immediately, the board went into a private executive session in the middle of the public meeting.
Emerging after meeting for about 30 minutes behind closed doors, the board then voted unanimously to rescind its failed motion.
“We have not resolved this. It’s a legal, technical matter,” Board member Thomas Best Jr. said. “There is a purpose to what we’re doing.”
Within a matter of seconds, the board then voted unanimously once again to approve the original motion to cut the teaching positions. Several board members said the board is working to reinstate some of the jobs, but they insisted there is not enough money to restore all of them.
“We are abolishing the jobs because it’s the law, but later on, we’ll be reinstating some,” Board Member Martin Lalka said, trying to reassure many in the audience.
Board President Janet MacGregor Plarr did not pull any punches.
“We have to eliminate these positions by New York State law, based on student needs,” she said afterward. “We don’t have enough money in the budget to fund these positions."
Plarr told those in the packed board room that the board hears the public’s concerns.
“We saw what happened in Clarence and Lewiston-Porter, and Bemus Point, which is a wealthy district, with their budgets,” she said. “They went down like lead balloons.”
The administration and board took criticism from a frustrated public and staff throughout the evening.
In related moves, the board also unanimously eliminated nearly 20 full-time-equivalent support staff positions, including seven teacher’s aides and a registered nurse, identified through budget reductions. Also abolished were a full-time custodian and a laborer, as well as a part-time food service helper and part-time cleaner.
The total number of support staff cuts was unclear, with some estimates ranging more than 20 and others a bit lower, depending on retirements being factored in.
Plarr urged teachers and staff to be patient with the board and administration as they weigh what positions can be reinstated. Plarr said the district over the summer needs to look at student test performance and assess class sizes, as just a few factors to be considered in determining what jobs can be returned to the budget. But she continued to warn that not everything can be reinstated.
“Please bear with us. There will be reinstatements,” Plarr said. “That does not mean all positions will be reinstated. … We’re going to do the best job we can.”