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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 26, 2011
Re-vote at BKW: After close defeat, same budget put upBy Zach Simeone
BERNE Last week’s budget vote at Berne-Knox-Westerlo was so close that the school board has decided to put the same felled $21 million spending plan up for a second vote on June 21.
The board chose this on Monday among its three options: a re-vote; a vote on a revised budget; and going straight to a contingency budget, as it had last year, when the budget was defeated in a landslide.
Also at its Monday meeting, the board approved the addition of eight extracurricular courses to be added for the 2011-12 school year, the creation of new reserves, and the job description for a new administrative position.
“There’s something to be said for being under contingency [budget] for the second year in a row,” Superintendent Paul Dorward told the school board at its meeting Monday. He was hired by the district last summer, so this was his first BKW budget vote.
“Your equipment infrastructure starts to suffer a little bit,” Dorward went on. “Obviously, 28 votes is not a large margin; I don’t have any direct evidence of what led to it.” The budget went down last week by a vote of 479 to 451.
As of Tuesday, districts are changing the way they look at budgeting, now that the New York State Legislature has approved a bill capping tax-levy increases at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, starting in 2012. The cap can be surpassed if at least 60 percent of voters approve a budget.
The spending plan that BKW voters defeated last week would have increased the tax levy by 3.5-percent; a contingency budget would bring it down to a 3-percent increase.
Kevin Callagy, BKW’s business official, said at Monday’s meeting that the cost of the re-vote, including the publishing of legal notices, the printing and mailing of budget notice cards to district residents, and paying voting inspectors, would be approximately $1,240.
Adopting a contingency budget would lead to a $53,073 spending decrease due to the elimination of $21,073 in raises for non-union employees, $7,000 for non-essential equipment purchases, and $25,000 for a transfer of funds that would have gone towards the district’s food service program.
Board member Helen Lounsbury was absent from Monday’s meeting, but the four members present thought that the budget they put forth deserved another shot, given how close the vote was.
Board member Jill Norray stressed the fact that, under a contingency budget, groups that run extracurricular activities within the school buildings are required to cover associated costs like lights, heating, and custodial services themselves, as has been the case under this year’s contingency plan.
“I know there are several of them, and it has hindered a lot of their offerings to our community,” said Norray. “They become very expensive if they have to pay for the lights and heat and everything.”
“I didn’t see a lot of room for movement in the budget that was presented,” said board member Sean O’Connor. “Maybe it’s a fool’s errand,” he said of having a re-vote, “but I think there was a lot of work behind the scenes that went on to bring the budget in where it was, and I’m not sure that was completely recognized in the first round.”
Norray added, “The comments that I’ve heard from people that voted ‘no’ seem to be misinformed. They thought that they lost a lot of program, and I don’t think they had heard about the distance learning being able to add back in a lot of the [Advanced Placement] classes, and when I explained that to them, they were like, ‘Oh, well we didn’t know that’…They didn’t realize that voting the budget down isn’t going to get you more program; it’s going to get you less.”
She then pointed to the newly adopted set of courses to be offered at the high school next year.
Plotting a course
Dorward said Monday that, because the district cannot control what courses will be offered through distance learning in the future, BKW is looking to increase the number of elective offerings within the district. Dorward added that these courses may not be offered in the long term.
High school students at BKW will have eight new courses to choose from next year, most of which will reportedly cost the district close to $500 each if these classes achieve minimum enrollment.
Some of these courses include the opportunity for field trips. O’Connor asked Callagy if the school would be able to fund field trips under a contingency budget; Callagy replied that it would.
History of the 1960s, available to juniors and seniors, will begin with a brief look at the country as it was in the wake of World War II and the 1950s, and will continue into the mid 1970s. Students who are interested must have already taken either United States History and Government, or Advanced Placement United States History.
Local History will teach students in grades 10 through 12 about their Hilltown heritage, as well as the social, economic, and political history of Albany County, and how it has influenced the rest of upstate New York.
American History Through Film, also available to students in grades 10 through 12, will examine Hollywood’s representation of history, and teach students how to look at these works with a critical eye and extract historical accuracy from some of the more sensational big screen adaptations.
New course offerings will also include: a history class on the Holocaust; Topics in English Through Literature; Topics in Social Studies Through Literature; and Algebra for College-Bound Students, each of which are available to juniors and seniors. Mathematics Applications in the Real World will also be available to sophomores, juniors, and seniors.
Asked O’Connor, “We don’t offer anything that would fulfill the two math electives here?”
“I think that we’re a little shorter on math electives than in our other areas,” answered Dorward, “so part of what [Principal Thomas] McGurl is working on with them is the idea of trying to find other ways in an elective area to get students engaged and excited about math.”
The board approved a policy on Monday describing the duties of the director of special education, a position that has been advertised and will soon be filled. Elementary Principal Brian Corey will vacate this position to return to being a full-time principal, though there are differences in the job description of the new position with the same name.
The school board also voted to authorize Dorward to enter into an inter-municipal agreement with Schoharie Central Schools to share a transportation director, which Callagy had said earlier in the budget process would bring a $47,000 payment from Schoharie to the district.
Later, the board created two new funds, the first being the tax-reduction reserve.
Last year, BKW sold the Westerlo School to the town of Westerlo for $145,000; as enrollment declined, the district no longer used the school. Of that amount, $112,000 went into a fund that was established to pay off debts owed from the district’s ongoing building projects.
“Each year, we have to pull out the debt amount,” Callagy said at Monday’s meeting. “This will allow us to put the difference the profit, so to speak, about $32,000 into this [tax-reduction] reserve, and it must be used to offset tax levy, and it must be fully utilized within 10 years.”
The board then went on to establish a retirement-contribution reserve.
“This is a reserve fund that we can utilize to offset the district’s liability for our payments to the employees’ retirement system,” Callagy told the board; those payments are set by the state. “This year, I would say approximately two to two-and-a-half million of our salaries is related to people that are in the employee retirement system…Next year, that will be 16 percent we have to pay to the employees’ retirement system 16 percent of the two million dollars of those salaries. There are three pieces of our budget that really seem to be driving, at least with the expenditure side, the difficulties we’re having: health insurance, the teachers’ retirement system, and the employee’s retirement system. This is a reserve that can help us to manage that.”