Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake CSD seeks to close budget gap

Times are tough, but area school districts won't truly know how bad things are until the state gets further along in its budgeting process. Until then, educators at the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District are planning for anything from a modest reduction to full-blown cutbacks across all departments.

That was the message delivered in a high school library stuffed with people on Thursday, Feb. 26, as officials detailed the district's preliminary 2009-2010 budget. With contractual salary increases and stiffening health-care expenses, in better years the budget would have increased $2.4 million from this year's level. Combined with a proposal to cut the district's state aid by $1.6 million, BH-BL is budgeting to make up $4 million.

We cannot take these types of hits and say it is the same program, said Superintendent Jim Schultz, "but we do have the ability to make it a quality program."

It is clear that staffing and programming reductions will be unavoidable. The question is, how bad will it be? The preliminary budget allows for three tiers of staff reductions; not all are total layoffs, but instead diminish salaries and responsibilities for some workers.

Tier 1 reductions will involve eliminating about 18 full-time equivalencies across all departments, as well as special education and assistive technology cutbacks. Administrators estimate such staffing reductions will save $855,000.

But if other relief doesn't arrive"if lobbying for state aid restoration falls through or residents are unwilling to accept a property tax hike"further reductions will be required. Two more tiers are set up in blocks of about $200,000 each.

Letters have been sent to more than 40 district employees who may be impacted, said Schultz.

"They are letters that say we don't know what's happening at the state right now," he said. "This is an unprecedented fiscal environment and an unprecedented response."

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