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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 27, 2010

Final note: BKW adopts contingency budget

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — Just two days after Berne-Knox-Westerlo residents voted down the district’s bare-bones budget proposal last week, the school board adopted a contingency plan that spends the exact same amount when factoring in salary adjustments and costs of office equipment. It will, however, reduce the tax hike by two-tenths of a percent.

The school board voted last Thursday to adopt a $19.64-million contingency budget, just $15,429 less than the district’s $19.66-million proposal that was voted down two days prior. It will cut the projected tax-levy increase from 6.7 percent to 6.5 percent.

Threatened with losing more than $1 million in state aid, BKW had already eliminated 19 jobs and cut classes — from business to art — in both the primary and secondary schools. Since the plan that voters defeated last week was already lower than this year’s budget, and the state-set cap for contingency budgets was zero percent this year, the contingency plan and non-contingent expenses together will exactly equal the budget defeated last week.

“I feel that the board and the administration worked very hard on this budget for a very long time,” said board member Michelle Fusco after making a motion to adopt the contingency budget. “In other districts, most of the budgets that passed were in schools that made deep, deep cuts and had very low tax increases. This board didn’t have the heart to make those deep cuts, and I don’t want to make them now. I think next year is going to be a very scary situation.”

Helen Lounsbury, who was re-elected to the school board last week, agreed with Fusco, seconding the motion.

“My philosophical stance is that, when you vote on something, you don’t keep voting,” Lounsbury said. “If I thought that there was a better budget to be put up than the one we did, I would have pushed for that. I didn’t see it.”

The board had until July 1 to adopt a budget, and had the options of putting a second budget, or the same exact budget, up for vote on June 15. Kim Kalina, a BKW taxpayer who served on the budget committee and was one of many who vocally opposed the budget, reminded the board on May 20 that it had some time before the July deadline to wait for state aid, and that it need not rush to adopt the contingency budget. Still, the board opted to have its vote.

There was also discussion of having a second public vote on the $365,000 bus proposition, which would have traded four decade-old buses for five newer ones. Fusco disliked the notion of a second vote on the buses without a re-vote on the budget.

“I would disagree,” said board member Carolyn Anderson, who joined the meeting from Utah on Skype video chat. “I have to believe that, if people truly understood the basis for the purchase of the buses, the cost, the funding, the financial aspects over the five years, they would have voted for those budgets. That’s the safety of our children as we’re trying to transport them to and from school, and it’s a separate issue from the budget.”

Seventy-one percent of the purchase would have been covered by state aid. In addition, David Clark, who works in the bus garage, had advised the school board at recent meetings that this year’s bus proposition was particularly important because the vehicles on the ballot were old enough that the district would be saving money, as these vehicles would not have to be adjusted to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s new diesel emission standards. He estimated then that this would have meant between $7,500 and $8,000 in savings per bus.

But these details, Anderson said, were not properly communicated to the larger community.

The plan

The contingency plan looks to spend $19,641,977 in the 2010-11 school year, and will raise the tax levy by 6.5 percent, to $10,525,791.

“Again, that’s an estimate, because we are still waiting on a state budget, [and] whether funds get reinstated,” BKW Business Official Kevin Callagy said at the May 20 meeting, before the school board voted unanimously to adopt the contingency plan. “They can certainly be applied against the tax levy,” he said.

Not included in that total are $15,429-worth of non-contingent expenses, made up of $9,229 in salary adjustments for non-union staff, and $6,200 for the cost of equipment for the business office, guidance office, high school office, and elementary school office. Examples of non-contingent equipment include electronics like computers and printers, Callagy said this week.

“But there’s a difference; if a printer breaks, that makes it a contingent cost,” said Callagy. “If we’re just looking to buy a new printer, that’s not contingent. So, those are the kinds of things that would have to come out.”

Other pieces not included in the contingency budget are the cost of student supplies, which BKW typically does not budget for, and community use of school property, which does not cost the district any extra money, Callagy said at last week’s meeting.

“If the community is coming in on weekends, and we assign a custodian to be in the building with them, they’re reimbursing us,” Callagy told the board. “So, the community would still be able to use the facility as long as it is not costing us.”

That $15,429 total, added to the $19.6-million contingency total, equals the $19.7-million budget that voters opposed last week because the state-set cap for percentage increases in contingency budgets was set at zero-percent, and because the district was already proposing a spending decrease from this year’s budget, Callagy said.

In anticipation of a $1.13-million drop in state aid, the failed 2010-11 budget totaled $19,657,406, and would have spent $133,661 less than the current year’s budget, while increasing the tax levy by $659,172, or 6.7 percent. So, while the 2009-10 budget raised $9.8 million by property taxes with no tax-levy increase, next year’s budget would have cost district residents $10,541,220 in taxes, had it passed last Tuesday.

However, despite the failure of the budget last week, several staff and program cuts remain, including the elimination of 19 jobs, and the loss of classes in both the elementary and the middle-high school.

(For a full list of cuts, and more information on the failed 2010-11 budget, go to www.altamontenterprise.com and look under Hilltown archives for May 20, 2010.)

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