Bethlehem school board talks budget

The Bethlehem Board of Education officially started the 2008-09 budget season at its Wednesday, March 5, meeting.

Board members crunched numbers on the proposed $84.38 million preliminary baseline budget for this year. It represents a 7.2 percent increased over the amended 2007-08 budget of $78.34 million.

A proposed baseline budget is not the total finalized budget, but usually only represents the amount of money needed to continue current operations from last year and adjusted for current costs and essential programs. The March 5 finalized proposed budget is estimated around $84.87 million, according to district figures.

Part of the increase is attributed to the addition of Eagle Elementary School, which was not a part of last year's budget, according to administrators. However, no new teachers will be hired, only the additional staff necessary to run the school, said Superintendent Les G. Loomis.

A $1.9 million increase in debt service this year marks the highest increase associated with the district's ongoing building project, the district stated in a release last week. "The district has planned for this cost by keeping money in reserves to help stabilize the tax rate in light of such an increase this year."

The baseline budget without debt service, meaning cash required over a given period for the repayment of interest and principal on a debt, would represent only a 4.7 percent increase.

"I want to emphasize the significance of the debt service graph. It's going to make a big difference," Loomis said, pointing to a line graph showing a steady drop until the 2010-11 budget. "It's going to mean there are better days ahead for the school district."

The debt service estimate on the graph showed a $1.92 million increase for the 2008-09 baseline budget that dropped to -$435,000 in the 2010-11 budget.

Along with the budget, voters will have to vote on a bus replacement proposition in May. The vote will now be taking place at Bethlehem High School following a unanimous decision by the board.

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