BKW superintendent sees fair skies going into budget season

Enterprise file photo — Noah Zweifel
Berne-Knox-Westerlo's canine mascot stands proudly at the school's campus.

HILLTOWNS — In an overview of district finances for the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Board of Education on Fed. 27, Superintendent Timothy Mundell signaled that, while the upcoming 2023-24 budget will present the district with its share of challenges, the administration’s foresight in prior years has put the district in a good position overall. 

The biggest jump in spending for the district, Mundell said, was a potential 25-percent increase in the cost of health insurance. Board President Matthew Tedeschi noted that this would amount to a million-dollar increase for the district, which currently operates on a budget slightly less than $25 million.

However, Tedeschi, who works in the insurance industry, said this week that BKW’s health insurance committee negotiated with the insurance provider, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, to lower the increase to 10 percent, or $300,000.

“We had a great meeting the next day with regard to the employee benefits,” Tedeschi said in an email, noting that “it’s still very fluid. But where we stand right now is we’ve got the 25% health insurance increase down to 10%. So we’re very excited about that progress and are continuing the negotiations to get more reductions.”

Tedeschi had said at the board meeting that, when taking into account the district’s claims data, “the math doesn’t work” to support the notion of a 25-percent increase. 

“A lot of things Empire was doing in the way they were developing the rate was bogus,” Tedeschi said. “They were using very high-trend numbers … A lot of it didn’t make sense, so I think we gave them a pretty compelling story and ammo to go back and get that number down.”

Prescription-drug insurance costs are also up, by about $500,000, Mundell said, adding that he and the district’s accounting/finance official, Stacey King-McElhiney, are “working to close that gap.”

Those insurance costs make up the bulk of projected spending increases for the next school year, and the projections are still “a very liquid, fluid number at this point in time,” Mundell said. 

Revenues are also slated to increase, including state aid, which Mundell said is expected to jump from $11.8 million this year to just over $12 million, not including additional aid for universal Pre-Kindergarten. Those state-aid numbers are based on the governor’s executive budget, which included a historic return to full Foundation Aid for schools, but still has to be passed by the State Legislature.

Berne-Knox-Westerlo will plan to spend nearly $1 million in reserve money, and will carry a fund balance of $876,500, Mundell said. 

Mundell did not propose any tax increase, instead carrying over this year’s $10.7 million levy for “illustrative purposes,” with that value to be determined later “as we get some more solid numbers,” he said. 

Mundell had explained earlier in the meeting that the maximum amount the district could raise taxes,while staying under the state-set levy limit, is 2.5 percent, or around $200,000. 

If a district goes over the state-set cap, it needs to pass its budget with a supermajority, or more than 60 percent, rather than with a simple majority of more than 50 percent.

When considering the budget for next year, Mundell said, “I think it’s important to put into context the work that’s been done over the long haul historically to put us in a good position financially, and then understand that we’re dealing with inflation like everybody else, and that affects different areas of cost in our budget, but that we do have a long-term future plan as well and, as long as we stay focused on that, we’ll get through the annual, year-over-year things that are just math problems to be solved.” 


More Hilltowns News

  • Of the Hilltowns, Knox was the first town to grant the 10-percent tax exemption that New York State now allows for first responders, with the rest of the towns appearing likely to follow once they hold the required public hearings. 

  • Rensselaerville resident Richard Tollner, whose own abuse-related civil suit against a downstate diocese was halted when that diocese declared bankruptcy in 2020, says that these maneuvers by the Catholic Church are designed to deprive abuse victims not just of financial settlements, but what for many might be the closest thing to victory — the chance to be heard and acknowledged. 

  • Berne-Knox-Westerlo Superintendent Timothy Mundell made the proposal after correcting the district’s tax cap calculation, which had originally been 2.5 percent but now sits at 4.1 percent. He also prompted the board of education to consider upcoming changes to the Foundation Aid formula that will either level out aid to the school, or diminish it, depending on lawmakers’ decisions. 

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