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BC think tank points to facilities

Community committee wraps up meetings, files report

After three meetings and a hefty amount of analysis, an informal think tank of residents, parents, teachers and administrators in the Bethlehem Central School District have come to the conclusion the district's fiscal future largely hinges on its management of its facilities.

That's what a straw vote of the group's members showed at its final meeting on Monday, Nov. 22, when options like selling the district offices, closing an elementary school and splitting at least two elementary schools into K-2 and 3-5 groups to better utilize faculty garnered the most support.

The group's final report will be presented to the Board of Education at a future meeting and is now available for viewing on the district's Web site. School board liaison to the think tank Diane Giacone-Stever said both the process and results of the group's meetings were encouraging.

"It gets the community out there and the community involved," she said.

The district has made cuts to the budget on the order of about $4 million in the past two years. It's assuming that the coming year will bring another round of reductions in state school aid, perhaps $2.5 to $3.2 million, and with no end to the recession in sight is searching for ways to trim things down in the long term.

Adding to the budget crisis is declining enrollment. The district has lost about 100 students in the last few years and projections show enrollment dropping by another 300 pupils by 2018. Such figures led the committee to investigate closing an elementary school, at a one-time savings of $500,000 to $700,000 and smaller year-to-year savings thereafter.

Selling a building could bring more revenue, and some of the elementary schools are in desirable locations, like Glenmont Elementary. But Superintendent Michael Tebbano warned selling a building could have unintended consequences.

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