BETHLEHEM The Bethlehem Central School District is projecting a year-to-year deficit of nearly $5 million in the 2013-14 school year budget, but officials said this year they will not attempt to challenge the state tax cap.
At a school board meeting on Wednesday, February 6, the district released its budget projections for the coming year. Under the state’s tax cap law, the district would be able to raise the tax levy by 3.64 percent next year.
Voters in May ultimately decided to exceed the tax cap with a tax levy increase of 3.99 percent, reducing the budget gap by $3.8 million for the 2012-13 school year. The plan cut some programs and clubs, increased class sizes and implemented centralized bus stops for students.
This year school officials blamed unfunded mandates, an increase in the cost of benefits and unreliable state aid funding for the budget gap.
“We are on a state aid level that is six years old and has never increased,” Superintendent Tom Douglas said.
Officials said the state’s Gap Elimination Adjustment has reduced the total amount of state aid BC has received since the 2009-2010 school year by nearly $12 million. Bethlehem has also seen a 70 percent reduction in its high tax aid from the state. Chief Business and Financial Officer Judith Kehoe said property owners are now paying for about 59 percent of the school budget, up from 46 percent in 2008.
“The board and I don't want to raise taxes, but we have a moral and civil obligation to keep given the plight we've been handed by our state legislators,” Douglas said.
The district was able to find savings last year through a reduction in transportation costs and a renegotiated teachers contract that resulted in savings of more than $1.6 million.
The district would have to spend $90.6 million to maintain this year’s programming in 2013-14, with approximately $21.8 million being provided in state aid as a conservative estimate. Voters approved an $88.2 million budget for this school year.