Bethlehem Central officials hold first of four public meetings on fiscal planning

The Bethlehem Central School District budgeted some time with the public to weigh in on its upcoming fiscal year by holding the first of four public forums on school spending.

About 75 residents filled the Bethlehem Middle School library on the evening of Monday, Jan. 12, to listen to district officials discuss the budget process and then ask questions and give feedback on the schools' roughly $85 million budget.

District officials are calling this year the most difficult budget season in recent memory.

The next public meeting, which Superintendent Michael Tebbano described as a "roundtable format," will take place at the middle school on Monday, Jan. 26, at 7 p.m.

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." The district said it expects to use feedback from the meeting to help frame the board of education's budget development work in February and March. Local residents will get their say on the district's proposed budget when they vote on it, along with area library budgets, in May.

During discussions with Spotlight Newspapers, Tebbano said he plans to implement some of the ideas from the meetings.

"We have a crisis on our hands," Tebbano said of the current economic climate. "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."

Several attendees of the first budget meeting raised the topic of teacher's salaries and contracts. It was a somewhat controversial topic that was hashed out last year when a member of Citizens Budget Group said members were not privy to the nearly 80 percent of the school budget that is consumed by employee salary and contracts.

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