Busing could play role in BC’s budget

Board considers changes to walking distance, closing middle school pool

— In an effort to close a $4.2 million budget gap, Bethlehem Central School officials announced the first proposed 2012-13 budget cuts at a workshop held during a regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, March 7.

The focus of the night was on possible reductions to the district’s transportation services and cutbacks to the Operations and Maintenance Department. If all of the considered reductions for the two departments were enacted, the district would stand to save nearly $1.4 million, but some of the proposals did not sit well with parents and district employees.

“Don’t just look at this as a dollar and cents thing, because you’re looking way wrong,” said district bus driver John Pittz. “You have to pay attention to the safety of these children.”

Reduction proposals for the transportation budget include creating more centralized bus stops for students, eliminating three part-time driver positions, eliminating a supervisor position, no longer having a late bus for middle school or high school students and reducing the spare fleet of buses by four.

If enough reductions cannot be agreed upon or the budget is not passed, there is a proposal to increase the walking distance for students up to the New York State maximum of two miles, which would save the district up to $600,000.

Superintendent Thomas Douglas said this is a measure that the board can pass anytime it chooses and does not have to be voted on by the public, but board members said the idea is low on its list of priorities given it would affect elementary and middle school students.

Last year, voters approved extending the walking distance around the high school from one-half-mile to a full mile. There was a discussion about making the switch at the middle school, but that proposal was dropped.

Chief Budget and Financial Officer Judith Kehoe said the change would affect about 20 bus drivers in some way. Though the board can extend walking distances to the state maximum whenever it pleases, any changes under the maximum would be subject to voter referendum.

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