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BETHLEHEM: School receives budget windfall

Bethlehem's newly adopted 2007-2008 school budget will now have a tax increase of just 3.96 percent instead of 4.61 percent, due to a $900,000 windfall of revenue from the state.

The new revenue, which is a result of the state budget adopted during the weekend of April 1, was revealed less than one week after the district had already approved a school budget.

How to best use the newfound funds was the one and only topic of discussion at a special meeting of the school board Tuesday, April 3.

We have the special problem this evening of more state aid than expected, announced Superintendent Les Loomis. "This is a wonderful experience."

The "wonderful experience" quickly turned into a 90-minute discussion highlighting a series of scenarios ranging from using all of the money to lower taxes this year or setting some of the money aside for next year's budget.

One frequently asked question from many school board members was whether the current school fund balance is adequate. Steve O' Shea, assistant superintendent of business, said the district currently has a $1.5 million fund balance without the extra money, representing 2 percent of the district's overall budget.

Board member Warren Stoker asked if the extra state aid will appear again next year.

"Is this a one-time increase or is this an ongoing plan from the state?" asked Stoker.

Answers to that question were mixed, depending upon point of view. Board members Richard Svenson, James Dering and Stoker said they believe the new state aid windfall means next year's overall base state aid for the district will increase by that $900,000 figure, resulting in a lower projected tax increase for 2008-2009 than expected.

However, Loomis cautioned that the district should not be spending more money than it may receive.

"You never want to be expending more in the fund balance than you can replenish," said Loomis. "Poorly managed districts get tempted to do that to drive taxes down in one year."

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