Editor, The Spotlight:
On April 3, 2012, the Bethlehem Central School District’s Board of Education adopted its proposed 2012-13 budget. Bethlehem taxpayers will get to vote on it on May 15, 2012. This budget calls for a 4% property tax increase and $3.8 million in “programmatic reductions”, which include elimination of 56 full- time positions, half of them teachers. Is this what we want for our children and the quality of Bethlehem education? Do the right thing for our kids and your property taxes by voting “No” on the school budget.
The School Board and BCSD Superintendent Dr. Thomas Douglas are to be commended for giving the public more time to scrutinize the budget by adopting it three weeks early. However, the proposed tax increase exceeds the 2% tax cap put in place by Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature. Instead of reigning in spending to abide by the tax cap and provide relief to tax payers, the Board has opted to increase expenditures by $4.3 million in salaries and benefits.
This approach couldn’t be more out of step with the rest of the public sector. State employee unions have accepted pay freezes for three years to protect the jobs of their fellow workers, rather than taking pay raises, and forcing layoffs. Instead, the Bethlehem administration and unions have opted for a 4.6% pay raise, while laying off teachers and cutting needed programs. This is on top of nearly 60 positions cut over the past two years. How in good conscious does this benefit our students, laid off teachers or the taxpayer? We can do better and we must do better.
The outlook for future years doesn’t look much better. Bethlehem School district reserve fund (savings account) has been substantially depleted, revenues are unchanged, while most private sector employees are struggling to manage higher costs, flat wages, and lower net worth. On top of this, at least for the next few years, we’re facing the same equation: tax increases, staff reductions, and program cuts, all to pay for increased salaries and benefits.