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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 26, 2009

At BKW: Next year’s budget expected to be smaller than this year’s

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — Berne-Knox-Westerlo plans to spend less next year than this year.  The budget draft for 2009-10 is $19.6 million, down from this year’s $20.3 million. One-fifth of the students are in special education, which accounts for nearly $3 million.

But, as the April 6 deadline for a final budget draft approaches, the federal stimulus package could bring big changes.

Governor David Paterson had proposed drastic cuts in state aid, which would have cut BKW’s funds by $705,643.

“What I’ve been hearing is that the money they took away from the schools will be restored,” said BKW’s business administrator, Tim Holmes. “Hopefully, we’ll know by April 1 or 2.”

Holmes told The Enterprise in December that he foresaw staff reductions in light of Paterson’s cuts to school aid, but this may no longer be the case.

“Luckily, we experienced four retirements this year, so, our staff reductions are going to be very nominal,” Holmes said this week. Still, two people will be fired, he said. “There’s one that’s official, and one that I can’t discuss because the person hasn’t been notified,” he said.

Special ed. costs

Close to $3 million of next year’s budget will go toward the school’s program for handicapped students, according to numbers presented by Holmes this month. About 20 percent of the students at BKW are in special education.

A proposal to bring 10 special-education students back to BKW from out-of-district programs will save taxpayers about $64,000, Holmes said. The district will establish two new special education programs — one in the high school, and one in the middle school.

These 10 students will no longer need to be bused to out-of-district BOCES classes in Voorheesville, Guilderland, Niskayuna, Schenectady, or Scotia, Superintendent Steve Schrade said.

Total costs to the district for these 10 students will be $373,130, according to projections from earlier this month. While most of this money goes towards BOCES tuition, some covers ancillary expenses like speech therapy, physical therapy, rehabilitation therapy, aid for the visually impaired and reading impaired, and social work. Some of this money will be refunded.

“For every student that costs the district more than $28,000 to educate, the district receives reimbursement from the state of New York to cover that overage,” Schrade said. “So, if we bring a student into our district classroom, and the calculated cost of the educated student does not rise above the $28,000 mark, then we would receive no state aid. But, let’s say it only costs $20,000. While we wouldn’t receive any aid, we’re saving that $8,000,” he said.

Projected costs for these students range from $26,009 to $92,474. Since educating seven of these students would cost more than $28,000, the district would be eligible for reimbursement on part of the cost.

A new teacher will be hired to teach one of these new sections, costing the district $55,000 next year, Schrade said; the other section will be taught by a teacher already employed in the district. “We haven’t yet determined who,” Schrade said last week.

In addition to these 10 students, Schrade said this month that the district will be bringing in at least three new “high-needs” students. These students could cost the district $80,000 to $90,000, Schrade said. Assistant Superintendent Kim LaBelle told The Enterprise this week the district intends to bring in a minimum of seven high-needs students to the district.

LaBelle defined “high-need” students as those with more than one disability. “They could be students who have cognitive delays, have a hard time adjusting socially, behavioral related needs, or they could have physical needs,” LaBelle said. “So, it’s a number of different disabilities that could make the student ‘high-need,’ and, in the past, we just haven’t had either the space or a high enough number of kids with similar needs to warrant that kind of program, but now we do.”

One of the administration’s goals, LaBelle said, is “to educate the kids in their home district whenever possible. Sometimes, we’re able to accomplish that; other times, we look at local districts like Schoharie, Duanesburg, and Cobleskill, but the first preference is to provide a program right in their home district,” she said.

In light of the high percentage of special-education students, relative to other districts, LaBelle and Middle School Principal Fred Marcil — former chairman of the district’s committee on special education — went into a bit of detail on the process for determining whether or not a student should be entered into the special-education program.

“There is a whole process that we follow, and it can be started by a parent, teacher, or even the child themselves, depending on the age,” LaBelle said. “That child is, one way or another, referred to the committee on special education.” A referral will list the concerns that the teacher or parent has with the student.

“We have a legal obligation to tell the parent the referral has been made, and the district will conduct some psycho-educational testing, but we must receive parental consent,” LaBelle said. Once the district receives parental consent to conduct an evaluation, report cards and other academic records are sent to the school psychologist, Karen Cowley, who then conducts the evaluation.

“It could be an IQ test,” said Marcil. “It could measure different areas, like writing, reading, spelling, memory,” he said.

Once the evaluation is completed, whatever information was gathered is then brought to the committee on special education, which is made up of one of the child’s teachers, a parent of the child, the school psychologist, the administrator of the student’s current school, and Chairperson Melissa Crounse.

After looking over the child’s academic records and information from the psycho-educational evaluation, the committee determines a classification for the student. There are many classifications, ranging from mentally disabled, to mentally retarded, said LaBelle.

“These are federal guidelines,” she said. “If the child qualifies as a student with a learning disability, the committee will make a recommendation that they be special education, and the parent can either accept or decline that recommendation. The school’s role is to put supports in place to make the school a level playing field for the student with the disability.”

Other business

In other business this month, the BKW school board:

— Heard from Superintendent Schrade the following timeline for hiring a new high school principal: A four-to-six-week period of advertising, with interviews in May, and an appointment by late May or Early June, with the new principal starting work on July 1, 2009;

— Appointed Christopher Johnson as part-time automotive mechanic helper, to be paid $13.00 an hour;

— Appointed Daniel Hardin as a substitute teacher, and Jami Yarusso as a substitute aide;

— Heard from the alumni association that the 75th annual Alumni Association Banquet will take place on Sept. 26 at the Crossgates Restaurant and Banquet House; and

— Unanimously accepted the resignations of Susan Bogden-Ritty, Donald Dennis, William Sossei, and David McLaughlin, “for retirement purposes.

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