Members of the school board, led by president Stuart Lyman, have tried to improve communication between the community and the district in light of last year's budget defeat by televising meetings on the public access channel; holding monthly community conversations with the superintendent; regularly updating the district's Web site' and creating a 40-member citizens budget committee to assist the district in crafting this year's budget.
"I think our budget and our spending is right in line," said Lyman. "We are educating kids, and our overall spending says we are doing it as well as any other district in the state."
In an informational handout sent to the community reminding them to vote, the district lists several factors for the 3.98 percent tax increase.
Debt service related to ongoing school construction, energy costs, regulatory expenses, computer replacement, social security costs, and salaries for staff are among the reasons.
The new budget is $4.7 million more than last year's, with $1.77 million going to salary increases for staff. Salary contracts districtwide are up 4.5 percent, with teacher salary contracts increasing 5 percent.
"The key to the quality of education here is our teachers," said Loomis.
Lyman said if you factor in annual STEP, or Secondary Teacher Education Project, increases and givebacks in health insurance, the actual salary increase for teachers is around 3.5 percent.
Spending per pupil in the Bethlehem district is $13,944, compared to the state average of $16,044 per pupil.
Other highlights of this year's budget include restoring funding for varsity hockey, gymnastics and cheerleading, as well as for field trips and non-league athletic trips.
"I think it was really hard on those sports to fund-raise, and everybody at the BCAA (Bethlehem Community Athletic Association) is very happy the funding is back in the budget," said Theresa Barrowman, president of the association.