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UPDATED: Budget discussions begin with State of the Schools, budget overview

Filed in Budget News, District, District News by on February 8, 2019

Public budget discussions got underway in Bethlehem at the Feb. 6 Board of Education meeting as Superintendent Jody Monroe presented her 2019 State of the Schools address and Chief Business and Financial Officer Judith Kehoe outlined preliminary figures for the 2019-20 school district budget. The presentations mark the formal beginning of public budget deliberations that conclude in May with the annual budget vote.

In her State of the Schools presentation, Superintendent Monroe:

  • Provided an overview of the results from the School Climate Survey that was administered to students on December 13, 2018. In addition to the student survey, parents and staff — both instructional and support staff — answered similar surveys regarding school climate in Bethlehem. A total of 3,784 people completed the survey during a two-week period, Dec. 6-20. A full summary of the survey results can be found here.
  • Presented the district’s Strategic Plan to the Board of Education. The plan includes a new mission statement, and outlines core values in four areas; academics, character, community and wellness. The plan also establishes goals and objectives, strategies and a set of metrics for measuring success over a five-year period.
  • Looked ahead at enrollment projections as well as residential development in the Town of Bethlehem.
  • Looked back at recent budget history, state aid trends and comparative costs of education in Bethlehem and statewide.

Our committee, which was made up of representatives from all our stakeholders, worked tirelessly in developing this Strategic Plan for our district,” said Monroe. “We believe this five-year plan will serve as a guide and provide direction for the district’s decision-making into the next decade.”

Superintendent Monroe also discussed the most recent enrollment projections prepared by the Capital District Regional Planning Board and reviewed current and proposed residential development in the Town of Bethlehem.

Superintendent Monroe’s annual presentation also provides a backdrop for preliminary budget discussions.

Looking at recent budget trends in the district, Monroe noted that annual budget growth in the district had been, on average, 1.55 percent over the last 10 years. Tax levy increases have averaged 2.2 percent over the same 10-year period.

Cost per pupil, she said, on average remains considerably lower in Bethlehem compared to other districts statewide, with a per-pupil cost of $20,197. The average cost per pupil statewide is $23,361; and similar districts spend, on average, $26,816 per student. The data was part of the most recent School Report Card provided by the New York State Education Department in 2016-17. New York State School Report Cards are available here.

Note: if you are unable to access any of the documents above, please contact the District Office at (518) 439-7098.

Baseline budget is close to projections

Following Superintendent Monroe’s State of the Schools presentation, Chief Business and Financial Officer Judith Kehoe previewed budget estimates that include a baseline budget gap of approximately $1.5 million for the 2019-20 school year.

The gap is close to the estimated $1.4 million-plus deficit that had been included last year as part of the district’s multi-year budget forecast, she said.

“As a starting point we are in a better position than we were last year,” said Kehoe. “We have several tools to address this gap and continue to strengthen our educational programs and these will be the focus of our discussions moving forward.”

The Board of Education is required to adopt a proposed 2019-20 budget prior to April 17. District residents will vote on the spending plan on Tuesday, May 21.

In her presentation to the board, Kehoe said baseline expenditures for the fiscal year that begins July 1 are approximately $100.9 million, an increase of 2.24 percent over the current year’s budget. This level of expenditures assumes no changes to staffing or programs for the 2019-20 school year, Kehoe explained.

Baseline revenues for 2019-20, that assume no increase in the tax levy and are based on state aid projections included in Governor’s proposed 2019-20 executive state budget, are estimated at $99.4 million, she said.

The amount of state aid the district would receive under the Governor’s Executive Budget proposal is estimated to increase by $250,000 over current year state aid. Kehoe said most of that increase is expense-based aid for transportation and capital costs already incurred by the district.

UPDATED: Tax cap is 3.54 percent

At the February 27 Board of Education meeting, Kehoe revealed a reduction in the district’s tax cap calculation of $350,000, changing the Maximum Allowable Tax Levy (MATL) increase for Bethlehem to 3.54 percent in 2019-20, instead of the 4.08 percent previously reported at the February 6 meeting. If the Board of Education were to adopt a budget with a tax levy at the limit of 3.54 percent, it would generate approximately $2,333,000 for the district.

“If the Board votes to levy taxes that requires a simple majority vote on the budget, that amount would need to be at or below the 3.54 percent increase,” said Kehoe.

Kehoe stated that it is still not anticipated that the final budget will require a tax levy increase up to the maximum.

As the budget development process moves forward, Kehoe told the board, the district will identify areas where cost savings may be available, including salary breakage from retirements. District administrators will also outline instructional and department-level priorities and identify opportunities for addressing the most pressing student needs in a proposed 2019-20 budget. These presentations will be the subject of forthcoming meetings. A schedule can be found below.

Note: if you are unable to access the document above, please contact the Business Office at (518) 439-7481. 

Schedule of upcoming meetings can be found below:

  • Wednesday, February 27, 2019
    Regular Meeting: Transportation & Technology Budget Presentations, BCHS Library, 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, March 6, 2019
    Regular Meeting: Operations & Maintenance and Athletics Budget Presentations, BCHS Library, 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2019
    Regular Meeting: Curriculum & SESS Budget Presentations, BCHS Library, 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, April 3, 2019
    Regular Meeting: Last meeting for possible Budget Adoption, BCHS Library, 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 17, 2019
    Regular Meeting: BOCES Budget and Annual Election, BCHS Library, 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 1, 2019
    *NEW DATE* Meet the Candidates, BCHS Cafeteria, 6:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 8, 2019
    *NEW DATE* Budget Hearing, BCHS Library, 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, May 21, 2019
    Annual District Budget Vote and BOE Election, BCHS Gym, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

All meetings will take place at Bethlehem Central High School.