Few certainties for BC's fiscal future

Final community budget forum sees differing opinions

Bethlehem Central School District officials got one last earful from the public at the final of three community budget forums Tuesday, Feb. 9, before launching into the nuts and bolts of the 2010-11 budget process.

Keeping in the forums' theme of What Matters Most? Superintendent Michael Tebbano spent much of the forum posing to the audience the more difficult questions that had arisen during the preceding forums.

Most of the queries involving facility use, transportation and extracurricular activities saw opposing points of view presented by the residents, district staff and teachers at the meeting. Few ideas would be able to be implemented in the coming year, Tebbano said, but officials are looking to the future with no end to the ongoing state fiscal crisis in sight.

"We're looking at many out of the box ideas," Tebbano said. "We need to start thinking in a more visionary way."

Budget reductions in the coming year will likely mean fewer teachers for the district, leading Tebbano to outline scenarios to make the most of resources. One idea would be to offer lecture-sized classes and distance learning opportunities.

Resident and SUNY Albany teacher Ewan McNay said he would be pleased if his students entered college knowing how to handle large class sizes.

"It would be fantastic if they had any experience sitting lecture halls and taking notes," he said.

Several BC teachers in the audience said lecture hall classes would not be appropriate for most students at the high school or middle school level, at least not before senior year.

"As freshmen, they come in and they already don't know how to study," said high school teacher Kim Wise.

Tebbano also opened the floor to opinions about how to utilize the district's six elementary schools. There has been much discussion about how to even out class sizes and deal with teacher reductions, with options including closing a school, redistricting, multiage classrooms or using floating district lines.

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