Bethlehem winds down budget talks

After holding four public budget hearings on its district-wide budget, the Bethlehem Central school district is gearing up to released its proposed 2009-10 budget to be voted on in May.

The district hasn't released any numbers concerning its proposed budget, as it's a work in progress at this point, but officials say the school is bracing for a possible $2.2 million loss in state aid under the governors current proposed state budget.

Both Superintendent Michael Tebbano and Board President James Lytle said they have been holding the public budget forums in order to host a transparent process where the district can maintain a high-quality educational experience for all students at a rate taxpayers can afford to support.

The district's board of education will begin its formal budget discussion, going department-by-department, at its Wednesday, Feb. 25, meeting. The board is expected to vote on a budget proposal sometime in March and voters will get their say on Tuesday, May 19.

There has been much discussion and many questions concerning Bethlehem's salary contract and transportation department, and, according to the district's communication specialist Matt Leon, an online survey conducted in November and December showed that these two topics were among the top issues cited by residents.

Tebbano said the community forums came about through an interest to build upon the work of the Citizens Budget Group during the last two years by opening up the budget process to a broader community dialogue.

"We have a crisis on our hands," Tebbano said last month. "We are going to be posting the budget online, and we are going to have our contracts online, too. We are really trying to be transparent, and we have talked to union leaders and they thought it was a good idea."

The district has made good on the promise. Employee contracts and an assortment of other budget related items can be found on the district's Web site, www.bcsd.k12.ny.us.

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