Bethlehem school district plans budget forums

In the spirit of transparency and in the face of substantial state aid cuts, the Bethlehem Central School District is slated to begin its community budget forums on Monday, Jan. 12.

The district will kick off a series of four community budget forums in an effort to provide information and answer questions of taxpayers as the new budget season kicks into high gear.

Starting at 7 p.m. in the Bethlehem Central Middle School library, the forums will provide the opportunity for taxpayers, parents and community members to provide budget input, ask questions and receive answers to frequently asked questions, according to district officials.

Bethlehem Superintendent Michael Tebbano, who is in his first year at the helm of the suburban district, said he called for the public forums to work with the public and create a transparent opportunity for residents to participate in the process that dictates what their school tax rates will be.

"It is my hope that the forums will lead to two things: a greater sense on the district's part of the community's budget priorities and greater community understanding about the district's budget, the pressures on it and what it accomplishes," Tebbano said. "Community participation will be essential this year at a time when budget priorities will help guide some tough decisions."

The first of the four budget forums will come less than a month after the release of Gov. David Paterson's proposed budget for next year. Under the governor's proposal, Bethlehem would have to grapple in 2009-10 with a significant state funding cut that includes more than a $2.2 million loss in anticipated aid.

Paterson's budget plan for the 2009-2010 fiscal year was announced Wednesday, Dec. 17, and it included some layoffs of the state workforce and about $698 million in cuts to school aid statewide.

Tebbano said that the proposed cut would be more than 9 percent of the district's total state aid package in the current year.

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