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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 10, 2011

BKW aims for 4- to 5-percent tax hike, to be shaped by forums

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — After Governor Andrew Cuomo presented his budget proposal last week, Berne-Knox-Westerlo released its first round of estimates for the 2011-12 school budget, centering on changes to state aid.

After an hour-long discussion on the latest figures, the school board agreed with Superintendent Paul Dorward’s summation that the district is “shooting for the four-to-five [percent] range as kind of a soft target” for the tax-levy increase, “but also waiting to get some input from the community forums.”

Both board member Sean O’Connor and board President Maureen Sikule said they would like to see a number of possible budget scenarios drawn up in the near future.

“I’d almost like to see the two-tier,” Sikule said, “where you hit the 4-to-5-percent range, but you also hit something higher than that, if the result of the community forum is that residents are supportive of that.”

A 4-percent increase would mean a $10.8-million tax levy, and an overall budget increase of about $930,000; a 5-percent increase would mean a $10.9-million levy, and an overall budget increase of $1 million, according to Business Official Kevin Callagy’s figures. This year, district residents paid a total $10.4 million in property taxes on a $20-million contingency budget, which the board adopted after defeat at the polls.

Dorward had said earlier that there will likely be two community forums, and that they will probably take place in the first and third weeks in March.

The district’s budget advisory committee will have its next meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 15, at 6:30 p.m.

“Throughout the year, the state aid numbers for the current year get adjusted based on our expenses,” Callagy said Tuesday. Most of that change is seen in the expense-driven aid, which covers Board of Cooperative Educational Services, pre-kindergarten, technology, and transportation (see related chart).

While the school got $ $2,483,286 in expense-driven aid in the 2010-11 budget, the state’s latest figures project $2,557,184, and the governor’s proposal would mean $2,632,518 in aid for the district.

The district’s foundation aid includes federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding and Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) funding, but factors in GAP Elimination Adjustment, which levels the playing field for school districts by a formula that factors in student needs, financial condition, taxability, and administrative capacity.

While the school got $4,947,772 in net foundation aid in the 2010-11 budget, the governor’s proposal includes a decrease to $3,953,326, while the February runs from the state show a total of $5,281,007.

“The big thing there is the federal education jobs fund,” Callagy told The Enterprise, referring to an additional $384,463 available to the district. “This was part of our revenues from the August 2010 run once the budget was complete and districts throughout the state had the choice of either using it for this current year, or using it for next year, or part this year and part next year. We’re in a position where we can use that for 2011-12.”

All told, state aid in the 2010-11 budget totaled $7,928,186; the February runs from the state show a total $8,358,028 in state aid; and the governor’s proposal would bring BKW $8,214,442 in total state aid.

These totals, however, include building aid for the ongoing capital project.

“If you really wanted to compare apples to apples,” said board member Jill Norray on Monday, “us to other schools in Albany County to see how bad we got hit, you really want to look at how much it affected program aid,” she said, referring to the total state aid minus the building aid.

Without that building aid, the state aid in the 2010-11 budget totals $7,431,058; the February runs from the state would total $7,838,191 in state aid; and the governor’s proposal would bring in $6,585,844.


At Monday night’s meeting, Callagy went over how some of the governor’s proposed changes may be affecting the district in the coming year.

“I know I keep saying this, and I hope some day I get to say it a little differently, but the news is not good,” Callagy told onlookers Monday night.

The district’s summer special education program, 80 percent of which is funded by state aid, Callagy said, and 20 percent by the district, may lose funding.

“Under the governor’s proposal, he is requesting that the aid ratio go to the State Sharing for Foundation Aid ratio, which for us is about 50 percent,” Callagy told the crowd. And the same aid ratio is being proposed for BOCES aid, which now covers about 60 percent of BOCES costs in the district.

“The other thing that is going to affect us is, in his proposal, he is talking about only aiding direct program costs, as opposed to some of the business services,” Callagy said of the governor’s budget. “And we do participate in some of those business services…I’m waiting for some guidance from BOCES as to which of their services we have will actually be aidable, and which aren’t.”

This could affect costs for labor relations, Callagy said, and aid for different software used by the district, like Citrix and SharePoint.

Another change in the governor’s budget affects school districts’ ability to trade in used buses.

“Under this proposal, you may not get aid if the bus you’re trading in is not at least 10 years old…and has 120,000 miles,” Callagy told the board.

The district is still three months away from its budget vote, and the upcoming community forums will further shape the process.

“I was talking this over with a dear friend,” board member Helen Lounsbury said Monday. “She said, ‘You’re wasting your time. You’re trying to resuscitate a corpse.’ And my response was, ‘No, we are trying to give CPR to a dear friend, and we will be successful.’ And I really think with the help of the community, the faculty, the staff…working together, I do believe that we will overcome this.”

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