BKW budget to include full-day Pre-K and after-school program; security funding still undecided

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

A piece of the pie: Berne-Knox-Westerlo Superintendent Timothy Mundell, far left, displays the way revenues in the 2018-19 school budget are divided up.

BERNE — State aid spells out good news for Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s school budget, with enough money for full-day pre-kindergarten and a continuation of an after-school program— known as Bulldog Club — which was launched this year.

While the school board voted to adopt a $23 million budget at its Monday night meeting, the board is still undecided how much money should be spent on things like security.

Superintendent Timothy Mundell said that the state budget left the district with an additional $97,000 in aid for a total of $10,113,803 — a little under half of the anticipated district expenses for 2018-19. Mundell also said an initiative to provide elementary-school school students with electronic devices could be launched with the budget.

The tax levy will be capped at 1.98 percent, a 1-percent increase, raising $11,055,383. Other revenues include $1,834,000 from the reserve fund and $252,000 in transfers and other revenues. All revenues total $23,255,186; expenses will also equal that amount, a 2.64-percent increase from last year.

Four new retirees, as well as strategic hiring and consolidation of positions will lead to savings in expenses, said Mundell, as will sharing programs through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, or BOCES. Half of the costs for the school’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math — or STEAM — Camp, along with the Bulldog Club, will be funded from aid through BOCES.

Two of this year’s retirees include district stalwarts Denise Robinson, a special-education assistant and district clerk, and Noreen Shunney, the secretary to the superintendent. The board voted to accept their resignations, effective May 30, but considered in jest if voting “no” would keep them at their posts longer.

Robinson took the lead as the board’s regular meeting began that night; the flag was removed from its stand and stowed backstage, and so she brought it forth and held it herself for the Pledge of Allegiance.

A bus proposition of $398,688 will also be on the May 15 ballot. The proposition is part of 2013-14 plan to replace the school fleet. In the coming year, two 66-passenger buses and three suburban-model vehicles will be funded by $150,000 from reserves, a $215,688 bond, and the remainder from rebates and trade-ins of vehicles.

Security concerns

Board member Helen Lounsbury asked Mundell about adding security provisions to the budget, such as by hiring a school resource officer, known as an SRO.

“We made it a big part of our capital project to have more secure entryways … ,” noted Board President Matthew Tedeschi. “So I’m all for exploring that.”

The board discussed whether such an initiative would be included in the budget separately or through BOCES-backed funding by sharing services regionally. Board member Kimberly Lovell said that sharing among districts may not be effective security.

“I think we have to do this,” said Lounsbury. “We have to find the money to do this.”

“I don’t know what he is going to say,” said Mundell, referring to Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, a proponent of stationing officers in schools.

Board member Nathan Elble suggested having the county fund a school resource officer.

“I want to keep the pressure on … ,” he said, referring to the county legislature and sheriff’s office. “If we just did it, then we’re going to own it for the longevity of it … .”

Board member Lillian Sisson-Chrysler agreed with Mundell.

“Let’s see what Sheriff Apple and his people have to say,” she said.

The board agreed to look into other funding for a school resource officer, or otherwise would split the elementary-school device initiative fund to finance the position.

Lounsbury and her brother, Joseph Golden, a former school board member, both zeroed in on school security that night. Golden, speaking at the podium, said he was concerned about the proposed school courtyard’s safety.

“When you have a bunch of people sitting outside like that, it gives me the creeps,” he said.

Courtyard proposed

The board later deliberated on the proposed courtyard, which would be constructed as part of  the district’s upcoming capital project. The courtyard would replace the parking lot between the elementary and secondary school buildings. The project would be about $182,000, said Mundell, out of the capital project’s $20 million budget, which is funded mostly through state aid as well as bonds.

Mundell said that the current lobby in the secondary school would be expanded out to accommodate entering and exiting crowds. The main offices, guidance offices, and visitors’ entrances would be moved to the front of the school.

An agricultural-science classroom would replace the offices.

“So those can be agricultural classroom spaces … ,” said Mundell. “In my mind, it’s more than just a courtyard.”

Sisson-Chrysler, who acknowledged that she had disapproved of the project before, said that she would be in favor of a project scaled down in cost.

“It may be only used three or four months a year,” she said.

Sisson-Chrysler suggested using student or community projects to cut back on costs, such as by having students plant a garden or build a gazebo. Mundell said he had already discussed this option with the architects hired for the capital project.

Lounsbury said that the trails behind the school would need renovation but could be used for environmental lessons. She recommended a suggestion by former board member Gerald Larghe to turn the proposed courtyard space into a security area by closing off the entry points between the buildings. Tedeschi said a courtyard would make the campus safer by redirecting traffic to the front of the school and away from the currently congested parking area.

Elementary School Principal Annette Landry agreed that it would make the campus safer. She said that vehicles enter the area quickly and park in spaces situated up against classroom windows and walls.

“They fly right in and they stop right where kids are coming out of the main entrance,” she said. She noted that parents, vendors, and other visitors often easily enter the building from there.

Tedeschi said the pavement in the parking lot between the two buildings would be ripped up, drainage would be improved there, and grass would be grown.

“It’s a blank canvas,” he said.

The board later agreed to have Mundell speak with the architects about the option of closing off the area for security.

Clubs and scholarships

The board also heard from Ed Ackroyd, who said that the Helderberg Legion Riders will award four scholarships of $1,250 for graduating students in the region. Applications are due by Friday, April 20.

The board also approved the Fred Pete Bassler Memorial Award, in memory a BKW alumus and former emergency responder. The award would give $250 to students going into a health-care field, who must apply by May 18.

Joan Adriance told the board that the school’s theater troupe will be participating in the High School Musical Theatre Awards. If it is a finalist, the troupe will perform an act from its spring production of “Shrek” onstage at Proctor’s Theater, and she asked that the board consider covering the costs of this.

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