main content starts here

Proposed 2020-21 budget maintains programs in a time of uncertainty

Filed in Archive, BCHS, Budget News, District, District News by on May 11, 2020

As part of a June vote, residents of the Bethlehem Central School District will consider a $103.5 million budget for the 2020-21 school year that would increase spending by 2.64 percent and carry a tax levy increase of 2.34 percent, an amount equal to the district’s tax cap. The proposed budget also includes the use of $3.0 million in fund balance to offset anticipated mid-year state aid reductions due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

UPDATE: All absentee ballots must be received by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16. This is by order of the governor.

The tax levy is the total amount the district raises in taxes to support its educational programs and services. The tax rate is the amount that impacts individual property tax bills. If the proposed budget is approved by voters, the estimated 2020-21 tax rate increase for homeowners in the town of Bethlehem would be approximately 1.1 percent. For the town of New Scotland, the estimated property tax rate increase would be 2.2 percent.

The proposed 2020-21 budget was adopted unanimously by the Board of Education at its May 11 meeting.

Due to the COVID-19 public health crisis, voting this year will take place by absentee ballot only. There will be no in-person voting. The vote date and mail-in voting requirements were established by an executive order issued by Governor Andrew Cuomo on May 1.

Voters to elect three members of the Board of Education

In addition to voting on the budget, residents will also elect three members of the Board of Education and decide on a bus proposition to replace aging vehicles in the district’s fleet.

There is a slate of seven candidates for three open seats on the Board of Education. They will appear on the mail ballot, listed alphabetically:

  • Christine Beck
  • Holly Dellenbaugh
  • Tricia Hertz
  • Kelly A. Magnuson
  • Meredith Moriarty
  • John F. Queenan
  • Ryan Richman

Board members are volunteers who serve three-year terms on the seven-person Board of Education. The candidates gathered for a virtual Meet the Candidates Night on May 13. You can watch it here

Candidates are also profiled in the June 3 edition of The Spotlight: https://www.spotlightnews.com/news/2020/06/03/seven-candidates-run-for-bethlehem-central-board-of-education-seats/

Proposed budget meets student needs in a time of uncertainty

The proposed 2020-21 budget totals $103,486,000, a $2,657,000 increase over the current budget.

The budget proposal was developed during several months of public meetings, including those meetings that now must be held remotely and streamed live. 

The plan continues to address student needs in the four goal areas outlined in the district’s 5-year strategic plan: academics, character, community and wellness. The proposed 2020-21 plan continues all existing educational programs for BC students and makes adjustments in areas of greatest need. Additions to the proposed budget in many areas are partially or wholly offset by reductions or elimination of positions by attrition (through retirements or vacancies that are set to remain unfilled).

The proposed budget includes a total net addition of 2.25 full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers, including two teachers at the elementary level based on enrollment, and the addition of 1.25 FTE teachers as part of the high school’s EXCEL program. The EXCEL program uses a team-teaching approach to help students in grades 9-10 with the skills needed for success in high school. The addition of the teachers would be offset by a reduction of a 1.0 FTE teacher at the high school through attrition.

In Special Education and Student Services (SESS), a Committee on Special Education (CSE) chairperson position would be converted to an Assistant Director position within the department that serves students with disabilities. There would be an increase of 0.1 FTE special education instruction at the K-5 level and additional support for the high school RISE program, which provides life skills and job skills to special education students. The net cost of these changes would be $63,000.

In Athletics, there is a proposed addition of a girls’ varsity golf team and an assistant coach for the swimming program at the modified level to adequately supervise and coach the number of students who participate in that program. These proposed additions would total $11,000.

Identifying resources to address fiscal realities

Due to the COVID-19 public health crisis, the district is expecting the state will reduce the amount of aid that had been allocated to schools in the 2020-21 state budget.

“We are being challenged to set a forward course against the backdrop of COVID-19,” said Superintendent Jody Monroe. “This plan allows us to honor the district’s mission while recognizing the impact of the public health emergency on state and local finances.”

Monroe said the proposed budget includes the use of $3.0 million to address the expected mid-year reductions in state aid. Governor Andrew Cuomo has said cuts of up to 50 percent in Foundation Aid — which provides basic operating aid to schools — could be necessary if no federal stimulus bill providing assistance to state and local governments is approved by Congress. 

Bethlehem had been expecting to receive approximately $12,836,000 in Foundation Aid in 2020-21, according to the superintendent. The proposed budget reduces that budgeted amount to $9,836,000. Actual state aid adjustments will be announced in three “look-back” periods by the state. The first aid adjustments are expected to be announced on Friday, May 15, and will be based on the state’s fiscal projections.

Monroe said the fund balance allocation in the budget includes surplus funds that have resulted from the state’s stay-at-home order.

“When our school buildings closed and instruction moved online, unspent funds on things like electricity, fuel and the costs of hiring substitute teachers contributed to a higher than anticipated end-of-the-year fund balance,” said Monroe. “For the last several years, the district has not used its fund balance for year-to-year budget expenses and instead directed it to fund reserves and stabilize long-term planning.

“The use of this level of fund balance as part of the proposed budget will help fill the revenue gap for the coming year,” said Monroe

Retirement savings, attrition reduces costs

Other changes in the proposed budget include a reconfiguration of the district’s Transportation Department that eliminates a supervisor position and adds a routing specialist position to create efficient ridership and routes as the high school transitions to an 8 a.m. start time. The budget also increases office support in the department. There is no budget impact for this proposed reconfiguration.

The plan also includes a new Technology Help Desk technician at the middle school to quickly address student and staff technology issues. This position is partially offset by the elimination of a School Monitor position at the school through attrition. A position in the district’s Communication Office that had been a 0.8 BOCES position will become a 1.0 district position, with a net budget impact of $22,000.

Superintendent Monroe said that where positions become vacant and can remain so, they will. She said the savings through retirements and associated fringe benefits are expected to be $784,000. A total of 27 faculty and staff have announced their retirement this year.

Bus proposition provides safety investment, reduces future costs

Voters will also decide on a proposition to finance the purchase of up to 13 buses – six large buses and seven small buses — at a cost not to exceed $1,210,000. The buses would be used to replace aging vehicles in the district’s school bus fleet. The large buses set for replacement are, on average, 13 years old with an average 73,000 miles. The smaller, 30-passenger buses set for replacement are approximately 10 years old, on average, with an average of 100,000 miles on each.

The district’s replacement plan uses data to determine when it is no longer cost-effective to repair vehicles to meet safety and performance standards. In most instances that is when a bus is more than 10 years old. All school buses must pass rigorous state inspections during the year.

If voters approve the purchase, the state would reimburse the district over a five-year period for about 62 percent of the cost of the new vehicles. The estimated local cost would be $459,800.

The district sells buses that are to be replaced at auction.

More budget information can be found here: https://www.bethlehemschools.org/budget/