Last year, officials in the Bethlehem Central School District spent weeks cutting $2.5 million out of the 2009-10 school budget, identifying the areas that would deal the least impact to programming. This year, they’ll probably have to dig deeper.
The 2010-11 budget process officially kicked off Wednesday, Feb. 24, as district administration passed the reins to the Board of Education, which is tasked with preparing a budget proposal by April 1.
Facing a $2.5 million state aid reduction being threatened by Gov. David Paterson, inflation and a continuing economic crisis, offering the same program the district is running this year would be nearly $3 million more costly at $90.5 million.
Projected revenues fall about $4 million short of that amount.
Raising that difference through the tax levyan option Chief Business and Financial Officer Judith Kehoe was adamant administrators were not proposingwould result in a 7.3 percent increase in the levy, translating to another $278 for the owner of a house valued at $200,000.
`That’s a lot of gap to be closing, and it’s a significant impact,` Kehoe said.
The increase in the district’s expenditures can be attributed to soaring personnel expenses; in fact, expenses in other areas of the budget were reduced. Officials predicted total salary costs will rise $1.4 million and benefit costs will rise $2.6 million. These areas already represent the lion’s share of the total budget.
The school district must make up the losses to the retirement system incurred by a poor year in the stock market, said Kehoe, which contributes to the jump in fringe benefit costs.
`That’s a huge piece of the impact,` she said. `Even though we were expecting it, it’s a painful impact.`
To reach a 2 percent increase in the tax levy, which is what was included in the 2009-10 budget, the Board of Education would have to make $2.87 million in cuts to the budget.
`If the board isn’t interested in supporting a 7-percent tax levy, we need to look at program reductions,` Superintendent Michael Tebbano said.
Tebbano put forward the Tier 3 reduction plan, a leftover from cuts made last year that is comprised of the most painful reductions that were avoided. About 14 teachers would be laid off under the plan, as well as 15 support staff and an administrator. Monday and Friday late buses would stop running, some athletics teams would be eliminated and the middle school pool would be closed.
Still, the Tier 3 cuts only amount to less than $2.2 million in savings.
Tebbano made it clear that if the board wishes to reduce the tax levy, it would be impossible to do so through stopgap measures.
`If our goal is to cut the program and bring our costs in line, we’re going to have to make some difficult decisions,` Tebbano said.
The public will vote on the school budget May 18. If it is defeated, the district can either put the same budget or a new version to a second vote, or go straight to a contingency budget.
A contingency budget is generally a slight increase from the previous year’s to allow for inflation while holding the line on programming. This year, however, because the consumer price index is so low, a contingency budget would likely be over $1 million less than the 2009-10 budget, not factoring in state aid cuts.
The Board of Education will be examining different areas of the budget in depth in coming weeks. Opportunities for public comment will be available at the meetings.