Bethlehem school district maintains salary negotiation procedures

Although the Bethlehem Central School District has passed its budget, plans for next year's budget process are already being discussed by school officials.

The district set up a Citizens Budget Group two years ago made up of community members, school officials, volunteers and students, in order to get a head start on the budget process and have an objective point of view on school spending.

Although the school's board of education has lauded the citizens group as both beneficial and practical, at least one member of the group thinks the district should make its salary negotiations more public.

John Giordano, of Delmar, served on the Citizens Budget Group both years and plans on continuing next year, but feels that the group is left out of the biggest portion of the school budget: salaries.

It really isn't an area that the school district wants to engage regular citizens, Giordano said. "About 85 percent of the budget is current and past salaries of the staff. I discovered that we were left to discuss the last 12 percent of the budget."

Board of Education President James Lytle and outgoing Superintendent Les Loomis have discussed the matter with Giordano and have concluded that "it is not clear to us that a citizen group targeted to contract negotiations would be either very productive or appropriate," according to a letter from Lytle.

Lytle said the board members take their fiduciary responsibility to the community seriously, and pointed to the roughly 60 percent of voters who adopted next year's budget as community support for their work.

Lytle did acknowledge that about 40 percent of the voters had rejected the budget.

"We realize that 40 percent, and it's not an insignificant number," Lytle said.

Giordano said he is not targeting teachers or district staff, pointing out that their salaries are contractually protected and they will be paid and given their negotiated raises whether or not the school budget is passed in any given year.

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