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2011-12 Budget Frequently Asked Questions

 

budget FAQ iconFAQS: 2011-12 budget

Click on any one of the questions below for the answer, or scroll through the questions one by one. You can also download this as a PDF document.

 

With spending going down, why is the tax levy increasing?

Is the district planning to use any of its reserves, or fund balance, next year?

Why did the district not reduce another administrator in the proposed budget?

What else is on the ballot on May 17?

What happens if the budget is defeated on May 17?

Is there a student technology bond referendum on the May 17 ballot?

Are absentee ballots available up until the day before the vote?

Why does the district propose to purchase replacement buses every year?

How much state aid is the district losing next year?

How did the district close the budget gap?

What are the estimated tax rate increases for the two towns in the district, and why are they different?

How many positions are being reduced for next year? Which of these are related to the closure of Clarksville?

How will the budget reductions affect students?

What will be the impact of increasing the maximum student bus ride times?

Does the budget contain any “new spending,” or program additions?

How many, and which, positions were preserved as a result of the teachers concessions?

Does the budget maintain all athletic, extracurricular, music and drama programs?

What is the district doing to control costs?

Is there a statewide property tax cap in place?

What would be the impact of such a tax cap if it is approved by the Legislature and signed into law?

In terms of the Clarksville closure, will this make Slingerlands and Eagle too large?

Will the Clarksville closure cause large class size increases at Eagle and Slingerlands?

Is the district selling its central offices?

 

With spending going down, why is the tax levy increasing?

Every year, the Board of Education is required to adopt a balanced budget, which means that expenditures and revenues are equal. State aid is the district’s largest source of non-tax revenue, and is decreasing by about $2.3 million next year. All other sources of non-tax revenue are staying flat. At the same time, the proposed decrease in spending is $1.4 million. The tax levy is figured after taking all other sources of revenue into account. Given that the loss of state aid was greater than the decrease in spending, a tax levy increase was required to produce a balanced budget.

Is the district planning to use any of its reserves, or fund balance, next year?

Yes. The district plans to use $2.275 million in fund balance in 2011-12. This is a little less than the current year, when it budgeted about $2.34 million in fund balance use. Given that fund balance is not a recurring revenue — once used, it is gone — district officials have spoken about the importance of maintaining reserves healthy enough to help it navigate the future difficult budget years that are anticipated. These future challenges include:

Continued cost pressures, especially in the areas of health insurance and pension contributions;

The loss of federal funding that has helped soften state aid reductions;

State aid increases that may be modest and will only come after the significant decreases of recent years; and

The potential for a property tax cap. 

Why did the district not reduce another administrator in the proposed budget?

Next year, the district will have 12 building administrators for 7 schools — a principal at each building, an assistant principal and house leader at BCMS and an assistant principal and two deans at BCHS. In the early stages of budget development, the district did plan to eliminate the one remaining Middle School house leader position. That would have left a student-administrator ratio at the school of about 615:1. School administrators are responsible for everything from scheduling to discipline to parent meetings to hiring, supporting and evaluating faculty and staff. Later in the budget process, after developments such as employee concessions and the modest state aid restoration, district officials decided it was in the best interests of students and the school to maintain the three middle school administrative positions. Anticipated budget challenges in the coming years may require administrative staffing to be revisited in the future.

What else is on the ballot on May 17?

Voters will decide on three separate ballot items:

The $86,829,000 school budget

A bus purchase referendum
($375,000 for six replacement buses)

Board of Education Elections
(Eight candidates are running for three seats)

Public library budget and trustees election
(Unrelated to the district)

What happens if the budget is defeated on May 17?

If the proposed school budget is defeated, the Board of Education has two options: submit a revised budget to voters for a second vote in June, or adopt a contingency budget. If a second budget proposal is defeated, under New York State Education Law, the district must adopt a contingency budget, which caps spending at a level based on the Consumer Price Index. In contingency budgets for next year, the growth in spending is capped at 1.92 percent.

Also under contingency budgets, districts cannot spend money in certain categories, such as non-essential equipment and non-contractual raises. Because spending in the proposed budget is $1.47 million less than in the current year, it is already well below a contingency level. What does this mean?

If voters defeat the school budget on May 17, the Board of Education would have the same two options: Adopt a contingency budget or hold another vote. However, because the proposed budget is already below a contingency level, the only requirement in adopting such a budget would be to remove the expenditures that the state does not allow in a contingency budget. For this reason, a contingency budget for the district for 2011-12 is estimated to be about $55,000 less than the proposed budget, primarily through further reductions in equipment and supplies.

Is there a student technology bond referendum on the May 17 ballot?

No. In January 2011, the administration announced it was exploring a student technology proposal that would have required a ballot referendum. This IS NOT on the ballot this year. Given the difficult economic climate, officials decided this is not the right time for such a plan.

Are absentee ballots available up until the day before the vote?

Yes. To vote by absentee ballot, you must fill out an application. Contact the district clerk at 439-7481 or download one from the district website, http://bethlehemschools.org

If you want a ballot mailed to you, your application must be received by May 10. If you plan to pick up your ballot, your application must be received by May 16. Completed absentee ballots must be received by the district clerk by 5 p.m. on May 17, the day of the vote.

Why does the district propose to purchase replacement buses every year?

In two words, safety and efficiency. The district has proposed replacing buses annually as the most effective way to maintain a safe and operational fleet and control the maintenance costs that come with keeping older buses on the road.

The law requires the district to get voter approval to borrow money for capital expenditures such as bus purchases. At a cost of $375,000 for six replacement buses, the replacement plan is significantly lower than in recent years. (Last year the district successfully sought voter approval to purchase 15 buses for $1.2 million.) About a third of the cost of the new buses is reimbursed by the state.

The outcome of this year’s bus replacement referendum has no impact on the proposed budget. The buses would be purchased next year, and the debt service would be part of the district’s total debt load beginning the following year. The district is on a 5-year repayment schedule for bus purchases, so the total amount tends to stay fairly steady — as new debt is added, old debt is retired.

How much state aid is the district losing next year?

The final state budget included a loss of $2.3 million for Bethlehem Central next year accounting for all sources of state aid. This reduction is in actual, year-to-year dollars – not through a slower-than-planned rate of increase.

How did the district close the budget gap?

At the start of the budget process in February, the district estimated that it faced a budget gap of $4 million as a result of rising costs and the Governor’s proposed reduction of $2.8 million in state aid for BC. The initial budget gap was calculated based on a 2 percent property tax levy increase, which is what the proposed budget calls for. This gap of $4 million was closed primarily through the combination of the following:

Full-or partial-year salary freezes agreed to by every employee group (a savings of $1.2 million);

$1.3 million in net budget reductions

The decision to close Clarksville Elementary School (a savings of $840,000);

Revised estimates for health insurance and pension costs (reducing budgeted expenditures by $570,000); and

The modest restoration of $465,000 in state aid in the final state budget.

These figures add up to more than $4 million, which helped the district hold off on using the full $2.5 million it initially included in its budget projections.

What are the estimated tax rate increases for the two towns in the district, and why are they different?

The proposed budget carries the following estimated tax rates (per $1,000 of assessed property value) for each town:

Bethlehem: $20.05 per $1,000 (+2.07%)

New Scotland: $20.26/$1,000 (–0.06)

At this point in the process, tax rates and increases for next year are estimates only. The tax rates differ between the two towns because of equalization rates set by the New York State Office of Real Property Services. Equalization rates are established in an effort to make sure the tax levy is fairly distributed when one taxing entity (the district) spans multiple municipalities, which may use different assessment practices. The district will set final tax rates in August, after the towns finalize assessment figures and the state sets the equalization rates. The rates and estimated increases and decreases shown here DO NOT reflect any STAR or other tax exemptions that may reduce individuals’ school tax bills.

How many positions are being reduced for next year? Which of these are related to the closure of Clarksville?

The budget calls for the elimination of 32.4 full-time equivalent FTE positions: 1 administrator; 7.5 FTE support staff; and 23.9 FTE teaching/faculty: (19.5 teaching positions; 2 speech therapists; 0.4 psychologists; 1 social worker; and 1 nurse).

This total of 32.4 positions includes 12.3 resulting from the closure of Clarksville: 4.8 FTE teaching positions; 1 principal; 1 nurse; 2 clerical; 2 custodial; and 1.5 food service staff.

How will the budget reductions affect students?

In short, the reduction of teaching positions means that some class sizes, particularly at the middle and high school levels, may be slightly larger — often not by more than a few students. Also, the district will save $60,000 by increasing the maximum student bus ride time. The proposed budget includes the total elimination of only one program, the High School GED program, which generated little student interest in recent years. The High School will help any students interested in attaining a GED find a community program that will work for them.

BUDGET REDUCTIONS by ACADEMIC AREA

Elementary Level

8.8 teaching positions, including special subjects; 1 nurse; and 1 principal

After reassigning Clarksville students to Eagle and Slingerlands, the district will have 7 fewer elementary class sections next year. The projected average class size in 2011-12 of 22.4 students is slightly above this year’s average of 22.2. Most elementary classes will stay within current class size guidelines.

(Note: The 22.2 and 22.4 figures for average class size this year and projected for next year were transposed in the budget newsletter.)

As a number, the reductions at the elementary level may appear greater for two reasons: They include positions related to the closure of Clarksville, and enrollment is declining at that level, while staying relatively stable at the secondary level.

Middle School/High School

4.5 Middle School teaching positions and 3.2 High School teaching positions

The elimination of a total of 7.7 FTE secondary positions results from reducing staffing levels across most academic departments. The result of having fewer teachers is that class sizes will increase slightly in some classes — often not by more than a few students.

At BCMS, the reduction in faculty also means that the team structure will be altered for one team in both sixth and seventh grade. The impacted sixth grade team will take core classes with a smaller group of core teachers (i.e., one teacher might teach social studies and English). The impacted seventh grade team will have teachers who may spend a portion of their day teaching at the High School or 8th grade. Students will continue to take the same academic program and have the same opportunities as their peers.

As part of its budget decisions, the Board approved a plan to redistribute 1.0 FTE teaching position from the Lab School at BCHS back into the High School teaching staff, which will keep class sizes stable in some electives.

Special Education

3 teaching positions; 2 speech therapist positions; 0.4 school psychologist position; and 1 social worker position.

These reductions will be accommodated through improved scheduling, some larger groups for speech improvement, and by eliminating at least one specialized class.

What will be the impact of increasing the maximum student bus ride times?

For most students, there will be no impact from this at all. As part of the Board of Education’s budget decisions, it approved increasing the maximum student bus ride time from 45 minutes to 60 minutes for $60,000 in savings. Very few students are expected to experience ride times that reach the maximum, but the added flexibility will allow the district to eliminate three routes and realize those savings. In the current year, only 4 percent of student riders experience a trip that approaches the maximum ride time. Officials expect this trend to hold next year, with the smallest percentage of students experiencing the maximum ride.

Does the budget contain any “new spending,” or program additions?

Yes, a series of budget additions totaling $283,500 are tied to state requirements and supporting students. They are:

State-required Regents exam scanning costs ($15,000);

State-required afternoon transportation to BOCES career and technical programs ($15,000);

An additional 0.4 full-time equivalent (FTE) in teaching staff for math Academic Intervention Services to provide individualized and group help to students who need it to meet state standards ($40,500);

Restoring “Homework Club” to provide dedicated afterschool help to elementary and middle school students ($15,000);

Restoring the technology resources budget to previous levels after a significant reduction this year. (an addition of $125,000). Funding in this area will be used to replace software, computers (some laptops used by students are 8-years-old), and other classroom resources, as well as complete necessary server and security upgrades and maintenance;

A 0.4 FTE increase in committee on special education chairperson staffing to keep up with a high caseload ($40,000);

An additional $18,000 to increase the role of computer network administrator from part-time to full-time. Having a network administrator on-site every day will help ensure the system’s continuous operation; and

The $15,000 cost of restoring night athletic games will be fully offset by the increased revenues from ticket sales.

How many, and which, positions were preserved as a result of the teachers concessions?

The Bethlehem Central Teachers Association approved freezing salaries at current levels through April 1, 2012. The freeze was contingent on using the savings ($844,000) to preserve as many positions as possible. The final proposed budget budget includes the reduction of 24.9 FTE instructional and student service/support positions, compared to the 43 under consideration to be reduced at the start of the process.

The following positions were preserved to provide programs and services for students next year. They are:

3 elementary teaching positions;

5.4 Middle School teaching positions;

5.9 High School teaching positions;

1 secondary guidance counselor;

A librarian and a librarian aide at both BCMS and BCHS; and

1 house leader at BCMS

Does the budget maintain all athletic, extracurricular, music and drama programs?

Yes, all of these activities and opportunities were maintained for students at current levels. They had been reduced some over the difficult budget cycles of the last few years. To realize any further savings in these areas would require the elimination of more clubs and the potential reduction of a full level of sub-varsity sports, according to Superintendent Michael Tebbano, who recommended keeping funding for them at current levels. He noted that while the cost of these programs is less than one percent of the total budget, they help students learn lifelong lessons and keep many engaged in the community and their academic studies.

What is the district doing to control costs?

The budget proposed for next year cuts spending by almost $1.5 million from the current year. This is the first time in at least five decades that a proposed budget calls for spending less than in each of the two prior years.

The district has done a lot to control costs in the area of health insurance, including most recently renegotiating the contract with the Bethlehem Central United Employees Association to include a doctor's office visit co-pay of $25, which will lead to considerable savings on premiums. (District administrators had already agreed to this co-pay level.) The district also participates in a regional health insurance consortium designed to secure the best possible prices through group purchasing and negotiating.

The district is part of an energy consortium, which leads to more competitive rates that it locks in for longer-term time periods. A focus on energy conservation and efficient building systems has helped the district avoid more than $1 million in energy costs over the last decade. Over the last two years, seven district schools have qualified for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy STAR designation, which is reserved for schools that perform in at least the top 25 percent of school buildings nationwide for energy efficiency.

Is there a statewide property tax cap in place?

No. At this time, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s property tax cap proposal has been approved by the state Senate, but not in the Assembly. The Assembly is reported to be weighing passage of a property tax cap. Even if approved in the coming weeks, it would not take effect until school budgets for next year (2012-13).

Under the property tax cap proposed by Governor Cuomo, the vote needed for a budget to pass would depend on if a district’s proposed tax levy increase was above or below 2 percent (or inflation, if that was lower than 2 percent.)

If a tax levy increase was at 2 percent or below, the support of a simple majority of voters would be required to pass the budget. If a district proposed a tax levy greater than 2 percent, budget passage would require 60% of voters.

If voters did not approve the budget, the district would be required to keep its tax levy at the same level as the prior year — an effective tax increase of zero percent.

What would be the impact of such a tax cap if it is approved by the Legislature and signed into law?

The budget proposed for next year provides one example of how the district could be affected by a tax cap. The district reduced spending by about $1.5 million to get to a 2 percent tax levy increase.

If the district had to reduce this amount year-after-year to satisfy a cap, district officials believe it would do great harm to the academic program and all other student services, support and activities.
Likewise, again using this year as an example, if the district had to satisfy the provision of a zero percent increase in the tax levy this year (due to a defeated budget), that would require an additional $1.1 million in program cuts beyond what has already been reduced for next year.

District officials — and statewide education advocacy organizations — continue to believe that the best way to bring down the costs of education, and therefore control taxes, is to address the cause of increasing costs to begin with. Many of them are mandated, like pensions, or mostly beyond a district’s control, such as the rate of increase of health insurance premiums.

In terms of the Clarksville closure, will this make Slingerlands and Eagle too large?

With students from Clarksville reassigned to Eagle and Slingerlands, the two schools are projected to have 511 and 519 students, respectively, next year. By the following year (2012-13), the population at the two schools would go down in keeping with the general trend of decreasing elementary enrollment. Eagle and Slingerlands will continue to have dedicated space for subjects like art and music and services such as speech and occupational and physical therapy.

Will the Clarksville closure cause large class size increases at Eagle and Slingerlands?

In terms of class size, if Clarksville students are reassigned to Eagle and Slingerlands, both schools would gain additional teachers and class sections to accommodate the increase in students. (This is why although Clarksville currently has 11 class sections, only a total of 4 classroom teachers are being reduced as a result of its closure.) The additional classroom teachers at Eagle and Slingerlands mean that average class size at those buildings will stay within current ratios, and most will be within the district’s class size guidelines.

Is the district selling its central offices?

As part of the decisions stemming from this winter’s Facilities Feasibility Study, the district is moving forward with marketing its central offices for sale or lease. The first step is to solicit proposals from real estate brokers interested in handling this process, and selecting one to do so. Because it is relatively early in the process, the district is not able to count any revenue from a sale or lease of the building in the 2011-12 budget. If the building is sold or leased, the central office operations will be moved elsewhere in the district, with the feasibility report identifying BCHS as a likely location.

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