District ready to talk numbers

BC officials hope restoration of state aid would prevent program cuts

— Bethlehem Central School District is facing a preliminary budget gap of $4.8 million for the 2014-15 school year, but officials are hoping some of that money will be restored in the state budget.

Next year’s budget outlook was presented at the Board of Education meeting held on Wednesday, Feb. 26. Superintendent Tom Douglas said it would look a lot brighter if the state restored nearly $3.5 million being withheld through the gap elimination adjustment.

“In the past, we have been able to do more with less,” said Douglas. “We are now balancing on the point where we might have to do less with less, so we have to be cautious.”

Last year, Bethlehem residents passed the district’s $90.4 million spending plan for the 2013-14 school year by a wide margin. The district did not put forth a budget that would have challenged the state’s tax cap, but voters did pass a 3.6 percent tax levy increase.

At the end of April, members of the Bethlehem school board made last-minute adjustments to the budget. About $221,000 worth of expenses were shifted into the previous year’s budget instead, since District Business Officer Judi Kehoe said BC was expected to finish the 2012-13 year with a surplus.

The board opted to transfer funds from equipment and supply purchases to retain a $100,000 capital improvement project, keep freshman sports and keep one full-time-equivalent hall monitor position and a 0.2 FTE health instructor position in the budget.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Kehoe said the district is able to put forth a 3.12 percent tax levy increase for the 2014-15 school year without exceeding the cap. Next year’s budget is projected to be nearly $95 million.

“We are hoping that with some restoration, and usage of fund balance and tax levy, we will be able to cover the vast majority (of expenses) without further cuts,” said Kehoe. The district has about $1.75 million in fund balance reserves it can use to offset costs for the coming year.

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