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

Bethlehem faces a roughly $2.2 million cut in state aid under Gov. David Paterson's proposed budget that is currently cutting $698 million in aid to schools statewide.

Tebbano said district officials came up with the community forum concept on their own, but he believes other school district are now holding similar forums in response to the "economic reality."

"We thought about this at length. The reality is that we have to get ideas," he said. "People on the front line are constantly e-mailing me ideas on what kind of things can we do to save money."

In his welcoming remarks of the community forum, Board President James Lytle noted that community participation is essential to the way the district functions.

"We are now facing probably the most challenging budget process that this district has encountered in a long time," he said. "What we learned from our experiences last year though was to engage the community at the earliest possible time and engage them as directly and as transparently as we can through the process."

While the district first announced the forums in late summer, the backdrop is now the continued economic turmoil and New York's fiscal woes, which has districts across the state bracing for a potential cut in state aid.

Prior to the community's turn to ask questions and give input, Tebbano explained how the possibility of substantial state aid cuts could lead to tough choices as the district and community shape the 2009-10 budget.

State aid is one of the district's three main revenue sources, along with property taxes and federal funding.

"When state aid goes down dramatically, "we lose ground but the cost of running a school district continues to escalate," he said. "In order to control costs, we have to figure out how to make up the ground we're losing. Do we cut programs? Do we cut faculty? Do we raise taxes?"

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