BKW takes $86k budget gap in stride

BERNE – The latest draft for the $23 million Berne-Knox-Westerlo school budget currently has a gap of a little over $86,000, but school officials aren’t worried. The current numbers being used reflect Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed state aid, and, in a presentation to the school board on Monday night it was made clear the district is confident in the state legislature raising that amount.

During the meeting, Superintendent Timothy Mundell presented the latest draft, which uses figures from the governor’s proposed 1.1 percent increase in foundation aid – which last year was lower than what was eventually passed by state legislature. The state budget deadline is April 1.

“There’s still moving parts at work,” noted Mundell.

The district is currently anticipating $22,741,676 in expenditures, a 0.66 percent increase from last year; of this, about $2 million is for in general support,  about $10 million is for instruction, $1.7 million is for transportation, $6.7 goes to employee benefits, $1.7 million is for debt service, and there is $195,000 in interfund transfers.

BKW’s anticipated revenue totals $22.6 million, a 0.365-percent increase from last year. Close to half, $9.9 million is to come from the state, a 1.7 percent increase; $505,000 is from the general fund, $1.2 million is from the fund balance, and $11 million is from the tax levy – the school chose not to increase the levy this year.

The proposed state aid, as presented, excluded Universal Pre-Kindergarten funding of $67,761; the governor’s proposed aid to BKW totals $9,985,564 with the Pre-K aid included. The money comes from a grant and is specified to go towards that program, Mundell told The Enterprise on Thursday. He explained that that was why it was left out of the presented revenue, in order for people not to confuse it for general funds or extra money to be spent on other programs.

The gap between revenues and expenditures totals $86,944.

“There is a lot of positive talk about adjusting foundation aid,” said Mundell on Monday night, again referencing that the state legislature is likely to increase state aid. He added that the district should be able to find funding by going back and making changes to the projected budget should an increase in state aid not come through.

He told The Enterprise that such changes would be focused on non-instructional areas like insurance expenditures.

Mundell at the meeting noted that increases in contractual salaries and insurance costs – which are still slightly uncertain given the discontinued Matrix program – are factors to be considered, as are savings in Board of Cooperative Educational Service contracts and other salaries due to “strategic hiring” and shared services with other districts.

Programs and projects

Mundell made note of new additions to the budget. With the district looking to explore agriculture in both academics and extracurricular activities, this includes eight-tenths of a teaching position for agricultural science — with an expansion in course offerings — and the proposed introduction of a Future Farmers of America club.

He later told The Enterprise that the new classes included Introduction to Agriculture II (the district currently offers Introduction to Agriculture I) and Introduction to Animal Science.

“Kids have been very excited,” he said, of the program.

He noted that agricultural science offers a variety of fields for students to go into from nutrition to economics, and can be an option for students otherwise interested only in vocational programs through BOCES. He added that it could offer jobs that are available in the area, as well.

Other new additions include a new reading program; continuing support for special and alternative education; new clubs in the elementary school; a summer science, technology, engineering, and math program; a shared winter track program with Duanesburg’s district; and a re-structuring of the secondary school’s schedule.

The school is also looking at a capital project, which was presented by Jim Graham of Synthesis Architects at Monday’s meeting. Currently, the project is estimated to have a budget of about $14 million. At the last presentation on Jan. 30, School Business Executive Sarah Blood noted that “big-ticket items” are aidable, estimating that — at 79 percent being paid for by the state — a $15 million project would mean $3 million would be paid for by the district over the course of a bond payment. The firm had last presented the project with a budget of $16 million to $17 million when it was asked to return with a lower budget.

Graham asked the board to provide its “vision” to his firm, in order to advance to the next step of the capital project. The firm is currently awaiting approval from the board before the full scope of renovations and its budget can be confirmed and publicized. The project will be voted on as a separate item from the budget and on a separate date. Graham told The Enterprise that this would likely occur in the fall.

The project is being offered in two tiers; tier one being infrastructure repairs that would mostly be in the elementary school, and tier two being renovations that could reshape classrooms and other spaces in the school's two buildings. Suggested renovations include room dividers in the elementary school that could reshape classrooms by opening them up or adding small multi-purpose spaces, and turning a lobby in the secondary school into a student lounge during school hours and a community space during off hours.

Mundell told The Enterprise that the second tier of renovations is important because it would make classrooms designed in the mid-20th Century equipped for 21st-Century learning, such as student collaboration or teachers instructing multiple groups at once.

“Education’s changed since those time periods,” he said. “If we’re taking the rooms apart...when we put the rooms back together, how do we want them to be?”

Without site work done on school grounds, the project would be less than $14 million, said Graham, but the amount of site work needed was debated at Monday’s meeting by board members.

The board asked the firm to return with more details on cost, especially how cost would tie in to site work.

Enrollment projections

The board also saw a presentation by G. Scott Hunter of the Capital Area School Development Association on projected enrollment in the district. Although he saw a declining enrollment trend leveling off in the coming years, Hunter also noted a possible declining trend in enrolling those born in the area over the next 10 years that could affect the school.

“Fortunately we have 10 long years to figure out what’s going on,” he said.

Hunter noted that enrollment can affect facility needs, staffing the schools, program planning, and the budget.


More Hilltowns News

  • In the midst of questions and controversies surrounding the Berne Planning Board in the past four months, Councilman Mathew Harris says it may not exist in the first place.

  • Nathan Elble

    Read or listen to Berne-Knox-Westerlo Board of Education incumbent Nathan Elble’s responses to questions from The Enterprise about the school’s budget; the relationship between a school board, district superintendent, and taxpayers; and what issues will be most critical to the district in the next three years.

  • Westerlo Supervisor William Bichteman laid out a worst-case-scenario fiscal plan Tuesday that would see the 2021 tax levy increase anywhere from 10- to 15-percent. Bichteman stressed that the scenario was projected using “best-guess” budgeting based on a lack of information regarding sales-tax revenue from higher levels of government and that the probabilities are almost entirely unknown, but that he wants to start having the conversation before it’s too late.

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