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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, May 18, 2006


Budget passes on first try, Harlow is back on board

By Matt Cook

BERNE — For the first time in three years, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District budget passed on the first vote.

At the election Tuesday, the $18.5 million budget proposal for the 2006-07 school year received almost 56 percent of the vote, 590 to 468. The budget represents a 5.9 percent increase over this year’s budget.

In the four-way race for the school board, former member John Harlow reclaimed the one seat available. Harlow got 266 votes, while his closest opponent, college-bound BKW senior Judd Krasher, earned 241. Robert Rue and Leo Vane received 224 and 218 votes, respectively.

Though the budget hasn’t been voted down entirely, in the previous two years, it failed on the first vote and passed narrowly on a re-vote in June. If a school budget fails two elections, the district is forced into a contingency budget capped by the state.

BKW Superintendent Steven Schrade attributed this year’s budget victory to the low tax levy increase, 2.4 percent. A larger-than-normal amount of state aid helped keep costs down, school officials have said.

Also, Schrade noted, there are no controversial issues in the district that could cause angry residents to vote against the budget. Last year, after the school board closed the elementary school in Westerlo, signs in the Hilltowns appeared at election time, urging voters to "remember the Westerlo school."

"I’m very pleased," Schrade said of the passage of the budget. Without having to worry about a re-vote, the district administration will have a much less stressful June, he said.

"I’m happy to be back on the board," Harlow said of his win.

Harlow’s first term on the school board ended in 2005. He chose not to run again immediately because he wanted to give a Westerlo resident a chance to be on the board, he said. Harlow is from East Berne. Last year, Maureen Sikule, of Westerlo, ran uncontested.

Harlow, 63, is retired from the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory and now runs his own business, selling technical equipment over the Internet. He’s lived in the district for 32 years. All five of his children graduated from BKW and his wife, Karol, served two terms on the school board.

In pre-election interviews, Harlow told The Enterprise he was interested in introducing foreign-language instruction to elementary students, particularly Chinese. He described the school board post as one of common sense and pragmatism.

Tuesday night, Harlow called his opponents "worthy candidates."

"I don’t think I can remember another year when so many people ran," he said.

The past few elections have been uncontested.

On his loss, Krasher said, "The results in no way dissuaded me from running again next year." He’s proud of his second-place finish and his loss, by 25 votes, "was not exactly a landslide," Krasher said.

"Aside from me losing, I accomplished a lot with getting young people involved," said Krasher, 18. "A lot of students came out and voted."

With a year to plan, Krasher said, he’s going to mount a more aggressive campaign for the next election. In the meantime, Krasher, who will be attending The College of Saint Rose in Albany in the fall, said, "I will be at every single board meeting."

Harlow’s term will be for three years. A ballot measure to return board members’ terms to five years was voted down, 441 to 622.

The other four propositions on the ballot were all approved. They were:

—To purchase new buses for a cost not to exceed $377,000, using $170,000 from the Transportation Capital Reserve Fund. It passed 590 to 468;

—To amend the Capital Reserve Fund for Facilities from $1.5 million to $2 million and to increase the amount that can be contributed to the fund annually from $250,000 to $300,000. It passed 649 to 402;

—To amend the Capital Reserve Fund for Transportation from $1.5 million to $2 million and to increase the amount that can be contributed to the fund annually from $200,000 to $250,000. It passed 662 to 399; and

—To upgrade the middle- and high-school fire-alarm and electrical systems for no more than $100,000, with the state paying 79 percent of the cost. It passed 759 to 306.


Christian school in Westerlo building

By Matt Cook

BERNE — The Helderberg Christian School is going to be back for another year at the Westerlo school building.

At a meeting last Monday, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board unanimously approved a contract extension for the Christian school’s lease. The school will continue paying rent of $750 per month for 5,280 square feet, plus the surrounding grounds and parking lot.

BKW Superintendent Steven Schrade told The Enterprise that, while the rent seems "lower than what might be expected" for commercial property, the contract comes with some uncommon restrictions. Tenants are not allowed to significantly alter the building, inside or outside, and the lease is only for a year, with the option of a one-year extension.

At a meeting in February, a consulting real estate broker told the school board the district probably couldn’t get a better price on the building with the restrictions in the contract. Nevertheless, the district did advertise for other tenants, but had no bites.

"There is absolutely no other interested party that has come to us in the past two years," Schrade said.

Schrade characterized the Helderberg Christian School as an "excellent" tenant. The Christian school is responsible for its utility costs and day-to-day maintenance.

The school in Westerlo was formerly used by the district for area students in Kindergarten through second grade. In a decision that upset many Westerlo residents and school alumni, the school board voted unanimously in February of 2005 to close it, citing dropping enrollment district-wide. At that time, the board said it had no interest in selling the school.

Currently, a facilities planning committee, appointed by the school board, is developing proposals for the long-term use of school property. One of its three subcommittees is dedicated to the Westerlo school. The other two are for immediate needs and the placement of the sixth-grade classrooms.

Suggested uses for the Westerlo building range from selling it, to using it for special needs classes or as a magnet school.

The Helderberg Christian School is a non-denominational private school of about 50 students, mostly from the Hilltowns and northern Greene County. It was previously housed in the First Baptist Church of Westerlo.

"We’re thankful for this building and it meets our needs beautifully," said Diane Hannay, Helderberg Christian School administrator. "We’re doing our best to take care of it."

Though heating costs have been high, Hannay said, "It has definitely helped student morale and the overall atmosphere of the school" to be located in its own building.

The Christian school owns land in Westerlo and plans to eventually construct a permanent home there, Hannay said. However, she said, progress has been slowed by the economy and high construction costs.

"Our goal is to stay here for next year," Hannay said. "Beyond that, we’re not exactly certain what our plans are."


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