BETHLEHEM — The Bethlehem Central School District Board of Education unanimously adopted a $97.1 million 2017-18 budget that will go before voters on Tuesday, May 16.
The proposed budget would increase spending by 0.6 percent and carry a tax levy increase of 0.43 percent — making this the third consecutive year the district has kept the tax levy increase under 1 percent and the fifth consecutive year it has remained under the tax cap.
Also, for the third year in a row, the proposed spending plan would not use any fund balance, which is consistent with the district’s long-term fiscal plan.
The proposed budget includes a $294,000 increase in state aid, which was approved as part of the enacted state budget on April 9. According to the district, the increase in state aid, combined with a reduction in pension costs and savings due to retirements, will allow the district to continue to address some of the prolonged effects of the recession on the Bethlehem schools.
“The additional savings and revenue will also ensure the district’s mission of providing educational excellence to all Bethlehem students while keeping the budget-to-budget increase to under 1 percent,” said a BCSD press release announcing details of the budget proposal.
Budgeted expenditures include: district-wide funding for robotics competitions; art supplies for the elementary schools; French Club funding at the middle school; restoration of the Environmental Club at the high school; educational software programs at every level; field hockey cages; salaries for additional staff support positions to help struggling students; the addition of a number of courses, primarily at the high school; and the establishment of a Unified Bowling Team.
It also includes $78,000 to add two bus routes for elementary students who were displaced when Clarksville Elementary closed in 2012. At a March community meeting to discuss the future of the former school, a number of residents were vocal about their frustration with long commutes now impacting students residing in the Clarksville area, who must now be bussed to Eagle or Slingerlands Elementary schools, often an hour each way.
The funding for the additional routes was made possible by the Legislature’s increase to state aid, an additional $135,000 more than had been allocated for Bethlehem in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget, according to BCSD Superintendent Jody Monroe.
“Elementary students who live in Clarksville have bus rides that are around 60 minutes,” said Monroe. “Our transportation department has worked to come up with a plan that could offer our youngest students in the furthest reaches of the district maximum ride times of 45 minutes, potentially saving these children in kindergarten through grade five a half hour a day, every day.”
She added that voter approval of the proposed budget would help the district achieve that goal.
“A boost in state aid, combined with reduced pension contributions and the savings that come with a fairly large number of retirements have helped tremendously,” said Monroe. “The budget we have proposed, and that the board has adopted, balances the educational needs of our students in light of these fiscal circumstances.”
Also on the ballot in May, voters will elect three members to the Board of Education and decide on a bus proposition to replace aging vehicles in the district’s fleet. Board of Education candidates were expected to be announced after April 17.