BETHLEHEM — During its initial budget overview presented on Thursday, Feb. 8, officials with Bethlehem Central School District anticipate that it will face a baseline budget gap of more than $3.3 million in the 2018-19 school year, after approximately $97 million in revenues fails to cover more than $100 million in expenditures.
The $3.3 million gap is larger than the $1.4 million deficit that was projected in last year’s multi-year budget forecast, said BCSD Chief Financial Officer Judith Kehoe.
“Every year, we look ahead three years using data and reasonable assumptions of what to expect,” said Kehoe. “However, when we put our projections together last spring, the expenditure projections were well below the actual growth in fringe benefit costs, and the revenue projections were also lower, primarily from reductions in actual state aid. These two factors combined put us approximately $1.9 million below where we had hoped to be in beginning our budget development discussions for next year.
“Fortunately,” she said, “we have several tools to address the gap so that we can continue to provide exceptional educational programs to our community. But we certainly have some work to do in the coming months.”
Kehoe said baseline expenditures assume no changes to staffing or programs for the 2018-19 school year, and that baseline revenues assume no increase in the tax levy and are based on state aid projections included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2018-19 executive state budget.
On the expense side, she said, retirement and insurance costs are estimated to increase by $1.6 million alone. In general, administrative spending is expected to increase modestly in most departments, with the exception of areas such as taxing, BOCES development and “self-supporting” programs like continuing ed and drivers ed, which remain at current funding levels.
Under Cuomo’s budget proposal, state aid to BCSD is estimated to decrease by $155,000 over current year. Given growing deficits anticipated by the state, Kehoe said the district does not expect this to change as the state budget process moves forward.
During the presentation, Kehoe explained the district’s tax calculation would allow the district to increase property taxes up to 3.95 percent without requiring a super majority vote. If the board were to adopt that, she said, it would generate a little more than $2.5 million in revenue for the district.
As the budget development process moves forward, said Kehoe, the district will look to identify cost savings, priorities and opportunities. Budget discussions will be held at regular Board of Education meetings according to the following schedule:
Wednesday, Feb. 28
Board of Education Meeting, 7 p.m. Transportation, Bus Replacement Plan, Technology
Wednesday, March 7
Board of Education Meeting, 7 p.m. Athletics, Operations & Maintenance
Wednesday, March 21
Board of Education Meeting, 7 p.m. Instructional Staffing & Programming, Special Ed and Student Services
Tuesday, April 10
Board of Education Meeting, 7 p.m. Discussion, Decisions, and Adoption
Tuesday, May 1
Meet the BOE Candidates Night, HS Cafeteria, 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, May 2
Board of Education Meeting, 7 p.m. Public Hearing on Proposed Budget
Tuesday, May 15
Gym A/Upper Gym
The Board of Education is required to adopt a proposed 2018-19 budget prior to Wednesday, April 11 and district residents will vote on the proposal on Tuesday, May 15.
BCSD Superintendent Jody Monroe also gave her annual State of the Schools address on the night of Thursday, Feb. 8, during which she provided an update on the work of the district’s Strategic Planning Committee, including a summary of the results of a community survey that was conducted in December.
The committee met to review the responses, she said, and will be drafting a mission statement next. More than 2,000 people responded to the survey — 1,401 students, 554 community members and 226 faculty and staff members — and, according to Monroe, “the responses were very positive.”
Around 90 percent of students and community members expressed satisfaction with the district, as did a full 95 percent of staff.
Of 17 areas, respondents rated their top priorities as:
Quality of teaching staff;
Preparing students with life skills;
Respect for cultural and individual differences;
Social/emotional development; and
In the survey comments received by the district, respondents asked for more foreign language offerings, school-to-career pathways, more arts programming, and a focus on “real life” skills. There were also requests for classes at the high school to begin later, and those at the elementary schools to begin earlier, in addition to increased flexibility. Monroe said she’s looking at putting a committee together to look at school schedules in the coming fall.
Academically, BCSD ranks No. 1 in the Capital Region (per Albany Business Review) and No. 223 in the nation (per Niche). Monroe discussed the successful implementation of the Chromebook 1:1 initiative, noting that the district’s student help desk, manned primarily by student volunteers at the high school, won national recognition from EdTech magazine.
The district’s vocational job program, which will certify students in vocations earning more than $60,000 a year, enrolled 43 students in its first year, said Monroe. She spoke about various district programs, staff training, special education, the K-8 iReady assessments and the new behavior intervention program.
“From the feedback I’ve received from Eagle and Slingerlands, it’s really making a big difference at lunch and recess,” Monroe said of the new program.
Looking toward the future, Monroe also talked about the budget, state aid and enrollment projections, as well as town-wide development.
“Obviously, our goal is to have our expenses equal our revenues, which is always a challenge,” she said. “But, we’re going to get there through the next couple months of planning.”
In addition to the budget vote on May 15, two board seats will be up for district election, as the terms of board members Lynne Lenhardt and Charmaine Wijeyesinghe are set to expire on June 30. The positions are unpaid and the terms last until June 30, 2021. Nominating petitions will be available beginning February 26 from the District Clerk, Brittany Barrett. All petitions are due by April 16 at 5 p.m.