Frontier weighs budget options

NEW MATAMORAS – The prospect of sending all first-through-third-graders in the Frontier Local school district to one elementary school and all fourth-through-sixth-graders to another is once again being considered.

And to make that move the most cost-effective, Lawrence Elementary would once again be the odd school out.

Frontier Local Superintendent Bruce Kidder said he asked the board of education at its Thursday meeting to provide him with direction on the shape of the district for the next school year. Frontier is spending $500,000 to $600,000 a year more than it’s taking in, and making the switch to grade-level buildings would save an estimated $350,000.

“I stressed to them that financially, the grade-level buildings are our best … options,” Kidder said Friday.

That still would leave the district in deficit spending. A 3.3-mill levy is due to expire soon, and Kidder expects the district to have an issue on the November ballot, likely at a higher rate.

“I think we’ve got an increase coming no matter what we do,” he said. “It’s just a question of how much.”

A good portion of the savings in going to grade-level buildings would come from reducing the number of teachers.

“For less than 60 kids (in a grade), I can teach them with two teachers if they’re all in the same spot,” he said. “I’m dividing them by three now. … We’ve got class sizes in the lower 50s in some of our lower grades.”

To cut the most positions and save more money, Kidder said, the best scenario would be to close Lawrence, which is the district’s cheapest building to operate, but also the one with the lowest enrollment, about 70 – and beloved by many in its community.

“I love … neighborhood schools, OK? But they’re more expensive to run,” Kidder said. “But if the community’s willing to fund it, that’s great.”

Prior to the start of the 2011-12 school year, Kidder announced he was looking at closing Lawrence, although a formal vote by the board was never taken. Backlash from residents in that area resulted in the board restoring a kindergarten class to the school at the eleventh hour. This year, the school remained open, although its kindergarten students were sent to Newport and grades one and two, three and four and five and six were consolidated into single classes.

Closing Lawrence would allow the district to eliminate four or five teaching positions, depending on how kindergarten was structured at the remaining schools. In order to keep class sizes smaller, there might be kindergarten at each building.

If the board decides to keep Lawrence open, Kidder said the combined classes would likely continue.

“Right now, I’m looking at running it the way I’m currently running it,” he said.

Board of education President Justin Hoff said he expects the board to discuss the issue at its March 21 meeting, but he does not know if a vote will be taken. He said the grade-level plan would not be his first choice.

“I don’t want to see it come to that, but if that’s our only option to ensure that we’re still going to have school, that’s what we’re going to have to do,” Hoff said.