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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 8, 2012

BKW, after two defeats, examines tax-levy legislation

BERNE — While new state legislation says there can be no tax-levy increase if a school goes to a contingency budget, as Berne-Knox-Westerlo has after the last two years of budget defeats, the law also allows for a carryover of the unused increase the following year.

“A carryover of up to 1.5 percent of unused tax-levy growth is allowed within the cap the following year,” said Morris Peters, a spokesman for the New York State Division of Budget.

So, using the 2-percent cap from the 2011-12 school year as an example, if a school’s budget were voted down twice — forcing the district to default to a contingency budget with a zero-percent tax-levy increase — then that district could have up to a 3.5 percent increase the following year — 2 percent as limited by the cap, plus the 1.5 percent carryover.

Likewise, if the district were to pass a budget with a 1-percent increase — 1 percent less than the cap — then it could increase the budget by an additional 1 percent above the cap the following year, allowing for a maximum 3-percent increase that year.

“That’s if the levy cap were 2 percent again, but that is something that will have to be calculated,” Peters emphasized. “The 2-percent example doesn’t include base growth or exemptions, if there are any. For example, if there is new construction of homes, stores, or offices, these taxes can be added to the capped levy next year.”

He went on, “There are terms in the law, like ‘quantity change factor’ and ‘inflationary cap,’ and all the rest that make it a little more nuanced. In general terms, if the district grows less than the combination of the quantity change factor and the inflationary cap, then the carryover available is up to 1.5 percent of the last year’s tax levy cap.”

The carryover is intended to allow districts some leeway as far as how many classes and staff positions they must cut to come under the cap, as was discussed at last week’s BKW School Board meeting.

“I think we can all agree that there’s a cumulative effect,” said Superintendent Paul Dorward at the meeting.

“But you lose — it’s cumulative losing,” BKW parent Jean Forti said from the audience.

“It goes without saying that, if you don’t get the 2 percent, you lose 4 [percent] over two years,” said board member Vasilios Lefkaditis.

“It doesn’t go without saying for most of the public,” replied Pamela Fenoff, another parent.

“A lot of people have already made up their minds on how they’re going to vote,” said board member Helen Lounsbury at last week’s meeting. “We’re trying to provide enough information so that, perhaps, if they’re a ‘no’ vote, they’ll see that may not be the wisest choice, the way things have been changed through the legislature, and they can see the impact of the zero percent, which we would basically be forced to go to.”

Trust issues

As BKW, faced with a revenue gap, tries to save programs and jobs, it is looking elsewhere to conserve funds. The district’s transportation director, Denise Towne, reported last week that she was able to cut 120,000 total miles last year from the bus routes in this large, sparsely populated, rural district.

The board is also trying to squeeze out savings in insurance costs.

In April 2011, the school board voted to join the Board of Cooperative Educational Services’ not-for-profit Municipal Benefit Coalition, meaning that BOCES would replace Benetech as the district’s insurance broker, at least for the 2011-12 school year.

The district paid $4,700 for the first year, the same amount that it paid Benetech the previous year.

The Municipal Benefit Coalition essentially offers three services:

— A cooperative service agreement in which BOCES acts as a third-party administrator, a liaison between the district and its insurance carriers, costing the district $7 per enrolled employee per month, with menu pricing also available, and this cost is BOCES aidable, meaning the district gets back a percentage of the money it spends;

— Consulting services, included in the $7 per enrolled employee per month; and

— Putting out a request for proposals for a joint pharmacy, at no charge.

According to BOCES, school districts pay an average $12 per employee per month, though this is neither a state nor national average, but rather based on observation.

The district’s health-insurance premiums for the 2010-11 school year total $3.8 million, of which 91 percent is paid by the district.

At last week’s regular meeting, school board member Vasilios Lefkaditis expressed his disapproval of voting to join the Northeast Health Insurance Trust, because the board has not actually read through the commission agreement. The trust is a consortium of school districts that would purchase health insurance as a group through BOCES.

Board member Maureen Sikule argued that it was not a concern.

“That’s going to be an ongoing thing,” she said. “The trustees would be negotiating with providers on an ongoing basis.”

Lefkaditis replied, “I’m not going to agree to something if I don’t know what the inner workings of the trust are.”

Said Sikule, “Once you join the trust, if you do that commission agreement this year, and next year, the trust determines that there’s a better provider, to provide the benefits, then they would negotiate with them at that point.”

“We’re joining a trust that pays a commission — not just pays a commission but receives a commission from the providers, and we don’t know where that money’s going,” Lefkaditis replied. “We don’t know how much it is or where it’s going.”

Superintendent Paul Dorward reminded Lefkaditis that timing is also an issue.

“At least one of the other four districts has already indicated that they need to know what we’re doing here because, don’t forget, we’re not going to get our pricing until this is resolved, whether it be up or down,” Dorward said. “We need to know for our own budget.”

Board member Lounsbury replied, “I’m sure you have shared with them that what this board has been doing is going over this agreement, line by line, and improving it.”

Tech ed.

The board also discussed whether or not future students should be sent to Tech Valley High School if the board sees a risk that the district will not be able to afford sending them for all four years. Some argued that, regardless of how long the student is able to stay at the school, it would be worth the opportunity to participate in the school’s hands-on and project-based programs.

There are currently two BKW students at Tech Valley. The crowd heard from the board that the district is paying $5,100 per Tech Valley student, and $4,900 per career and technical education (CTE) student at the Board of Cooperative Educational Service’s New Visions program, which gives students the opportunity to learn about journalism and media, law, or medicine.

According to the district’s most recent New York State School Report Card, in the 2008-09 school year, BKW spent $10,789 per student in general education, and $20,523 per student for special education; close to 20 percent of BKW’s students are classified as special education.

“The question,” Lefkaditis said, “is, why CTE and New Visions, but not Tech Valley? And why Tech Valley but not CTE and New Visions?”

— By Zach Simeone

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