School board members heard proposals over what money needs to be spent next year to address several issues outside of the classroom.
Bethlehem Central Board of Education members were presented proposed spending from the Transportation, Operations and Maintenance, and Technology departments on Wednesday, Feb. 25 for the upcoming 2015-16 school year. Among the discussion is the purchase of 10 buses, to be placed for vote through a proposition alongside the budget.
Transportation expenditures are proposed to increase by about $70,000, totaling $5.96 million, with the increase primarily tied to contractual salary raises.
Bethlehem Central Transportation Director Cindy Jurewicz proposed maintaining 89 bus drivers, with only four full-time drivers, 25 bus attendants, seven mechanics and another seven across dispatchers, trainers and supervisor’s office employees. The only staffing reduction was one bus attendant.
Overtime costs are slated to drop almost $18,000, which Jurewicz said is more aligned to actual costs this school year.
Potential enhancements and future needs for the department include holding three more safety meetings ($24,000), garage equipment and technology upgrades ($16,000), dispatch office improvements ($10,000), and replacing its plow truck ($50,000). Longer term needs include additional paving for the bus parking lot and enhancing bus tracking services.
“We do need these,” said Superintendent Thomas Douglas about the potential expenditures. “The problem is with the unknown fiscal reality … we didn’t want to put it up and say we need these and then have to say we have to cut it just because we don’t have the fiscal support and we’ll get by.”
District administrators are recommending the board approve a proposition to purchase eight large buses and two small buses for just over $1 million. “There is always option ‘C,’ which is zero, but in doing that, that just pushes the problems further out and the maintenance costs go up with that as well,” said Jurewicz.
Douglas also pointed to the district would lose its state aid rollover if the district did not maintain its bus replacement schedule.
Operations and Maintenance expenditures are proposed to decrease spending by $6,700, totaling $5.2 million. Staffing levels are slated to remain unchanged, with 37 custodians, 14 maintenance works and four administrators.
Gregg Nolte, director of Operations and Maintenance, said proposed spending includes special projects, which would install additional security cameras, replace portable outdoor bleachers, pave the pathway to the high school tennis courts, along with fencing work and installing additional clocks at the high school and middle school. These projects totaled $94,000.
Additional operation needs not included in next year’s proposed spending, include restoring custodial staffing to 2011-12 levels. That would add one full-time equivalent worker, along with establishing an effective turf management program.
Technology Department spending is proposed to increase almost $235,000. Salaries were increasing more than $40,000 and purchased services would increase by about $37,000.
Proposed BOCES expenditures for the Technology Department would increase about $170,000, but Sal DeAngelo, chief technology and information officer, said $150,000 of this spending could be redeployed or reduced.
“We are just taking a look at our BOCES commitments for next year and haven’t nailed down a cost for that,” DeAngelo said. “There are several factors that are involved with that cost… We are leaving a little bit of a conservative projection here as to what that number could be.”
Near the end of the district’s budget development process, Douglas said some “very rapid decisions” would have to be made once a state budget is approved. While district leaders have deemed some expenses as necessary, several aspects of the budget would be contingent on available funding.
“Without the numbers it is hard to get a firm sense,” Douglas said. “We’re trying to do the best that we can being realistic with what opportunities we have and the potential expectations that we just don’t know will arrive.”
Unlike recent years, district administrators are uncertain where its property levy tax cap limit falls despite having to submit its preliminary tax cap report to the state Comptroller’s Office. The Governor’s Office has yet to release school aid runs, which effects where its cap falls.
The district projects its limit will be a property tax levy increase of 2.02 percent, but it could dip as low as a 0.74 percent decrease. If the school board sought a 2 percent tax increase, the district’s budget gap would shrink to $725,000 for a rollover budget totaling $93.64 million.
“If we do have restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment or our foundation aid that will really help, because that will enable us to lower that maximum allowable tax levy,” said Judith Kehoe, chief business and finical officer for Bethlehem Central.