BC gets grim budget outlook

Last year, officials in the Bethlehem Central School District spent weeks cutting $2.5 million out of the 2009-10 school budget, identifying the areas that would deal the least impact to programming. This year, they'll probably have to dig deeper.

The 2010-11 budget process officially kicked off Wednesday, Feb. 24, as district administration passed the reins to the Board of Education, which is tasked with preparing a budget proposal by April 1.

Facing a $2.5 million state aid reduction being threatened by Gov. David Paterson, inflation and a continuing economic crisis, offering the same program the district is running this year would be nearly $3 million more costly at $90.5 million.

Projected revenues fall about $4 million short of that amount.

Raising that difference through the tax levyan option Chief Business and Financial Officer Judith Kehoe was adamant administrators were not proposingwould result in a 7.3 percent increase in the levy, translating to another $278 for the owner of a house valued at $200,000.

"That's a lot of gap to be closing, and it's a significant impact," Kehoe said.

The increase in the district's expenditures can be attributed to soaring personnel expenses; in fact, expenses in other areas of the budget were reduced. Officials predicted total salary costs will rise $1.4 million and benefit costs will rise $2.6 million. These areas already represent the lion's share of the total budget.

The school district must make up the losses to the retirement system incurred by a poor year in the stock market, said Kehoe, which contributes to the jump in fringe benefit costs.

"That's a huge piece of the impact," she said. "Even though we were expecting it, it's a painful impact."

To reach a 2 percent increase in the tax levy, which is what was included in the 2009-10 budget, the Board of Education would have to make $2.87 million in cuts to the budget.

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