BKW revives defeated budget for June vote and appoints superintendent, principal from within

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
Berne-Knox-Westerlo Principal Bonnie Kane, speaking here at last year’s graduation ceremony, has been appointed superintendent on a three-year contract, being the board of education’s pick to replace Superintendent Timothy Mundell, who’s retiring. 

HILLTOWNS — Berne-Knox-Westerlo is betting on itself. 

The board of education voted at its May 29 meeting to appoint high school principal Bonnie Kane to a three-year term as superintendent, hire elementary school teacher Mark Tidd to replace Kane, and put its tax-cap-busting budget up for a second vote after it had narrowly failed to reach supermajority approval the week prior.

In hiring internally for these leadership roles — forgoing the usual process of advertising and bringing stakeholders into the decision — the board is emphasizing its belief that it already has top talent, and by re-upping its budget without modification, it’s rejecting the notion that the original vote results suggested that the budget was not in the best interests of the community. 

The $26 million spending plan has a tax-levy increase, 5.09 percent, exceeding the state-set cap of 4.35 percent.

And, judging by the meeting packed with supporters of that decision, it would seem that the community is behind the board.

“This community will rally,” board member Matthew Tedeschi said after the board decided to stick with the original budget. “This budget will pass by 100 votes.” 

Speaking about the effort that the board had put into the original budget, one resident said, “You had to go through it, and now you have to go through it again, and the community appreciates you,” with the room breaking out into applause. 

The consensus in the meeting was that turnout played a bigger role in the budget’s failure than the budget itself, despite the fact that the budget was over the 50 percent mark by less than is typical for the district in recent years. 

“You just missed that extra little leap by eight votes,” former board of education member Joan Adriance said at the meeting. “I commit, right here in this room, to talking to eight people who didn’t vote and driving them here if I have to. If we all do that, we’ll pass the budget if you put it up again.”

Adriance said that her daughter and son-in-law were two people who couldn’t make it to the school in time for the May 21 vote, which took place from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on a Tuesday, because they work outside of the district and had other commitments. The board has decided that the second vote, on June 18, will instead take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“We’ve become complacent,” board member Rebecca Miller said. “We just assume it’s going to pass, and we did a disservice to our kids, as far as I’m concerned. I’m angry.”

She said she doesn’t care whether people vote yes or no, but when they don’t vote at all, “it sends the message to our kids that you don’t care either way.” 

One resident said she didn’t share the optimism that enough people could be called upon to pass the budget, and that it wasn’t worth students’ “high school career and their college career, which is built on their high school career.” 

If the district again fails to get 60 percent approval for its current proposal, which relies on a 5.1 percent tax increase, it will have to fall back on a contingency budget, meaning that the tax levy will remain unchanged at a total of around $11 million. 

Superintendent Timothy Mundell, who is retiring, had presented a modified budget with a lower tax increase — 2.1 percent — but included cuts to funding for graduation, field trips, chaperoned events, summer help, maintenance projects, and more, along with the elimination of a full-time position. 

The difference in taxes between each of the three budgets — the supermajority budget, majority budget, and contingency budget — was calculated in a spreadsheet presented at the meeting. Each of the towns included in the district have a slightly different calculation because of the difference in equalization rates, but the margin of difference between the various tax rates is around $8 to $10 per month per $100,000 of assessed value.  

The majority budget would include the school resource officer program; including the SRO initially led the board to go over the 4.35-percent state-set tax cap, requiring over 60 percent voter approval. Board members felt — then and now — that the program was too valuable to lose. 

Former board member Karen Storm said at the May 29 meeting, “In this day and age, you never know what’s going to happen” and that the district wouldn’t want to be “the one” that cut its officer loose if ever an emergency occurred.

The board voted to re-propose the supermajority budget, 4-to-0, with board member Nathan Elble absent. 

“The majority of the voters indicated based on the percentage of approval the support of our programs, opportunities, and after school activities,” board President Kimberly Lovell wrote in an email to The Enterprise. “We support this decision and will not make cuts that will directly impact our students. The unfortunate truth is that the lack of state aid is what is directly impacting our tax levy, not the misuse of district funds. We are strong in our belief that our students, regardless of our rural location, deserve an equitable education.”

The proposed $26 million budget counts on about $12 million in state aid with about $12 million coming from property taxes and the rest coming largely from reserves and the district’s fund balance. The proportion of BKW’s budget funded by state aid is much greater than for the Voorheesville or Guilderland districts.

 

Appointments

Mundell, after a decade as superintendent, announced his retirement at the board of education’s May 7 budget hearing.

Lovell told The Enterprise in a statement similar to what she shared at the meeting this week that the board decided to appoint Kane as superintendent and Tidd as high school principal because the “current administrative team has demonstrated their ability to rise to the challenges of their roles, utilizing effective communication as a means for learning new responsibilities and evolving as educational leaders. 

“Their commitment has had a positive impact on the educational experience of our students, the support provided to families, and the overall well-being of our community.”

Kane, who has a bachelor’s degree in English, a master’s degree in curriculum development and education technologies, and a certificate of advanced study in educational leadership, was formerly an English teacher with the district before she was promoted to principal in 2022, following the retirement of Mark Pitterson. 

While she was getting her certificate, she had interned under Pitterson and Mundell to learn more about administration.

“Interestingly, my family has a deep history with BKW that I was not fully aware of until after my employment with the district began [in 2016],” she told The Enterprise after her promotion. “My sister briefly served as business manager, but my husband’s grandmother taught in the district for the majority of her career. Similarly, my husband’s uncle, Perry Kane, served the district for over thirty years as a business teacher and business administrator before retiring in 1995.”

Kane said at the May 29 meeting that she was “excited for the direction that we’re moving in as a district,” and “grateful” to the board and the community for their support.

When searching for a new superintendent, districts often advertise widely for the post and form a committee of stakeholders to review applicants before the school board considers finalists.

However, when the board had hired Kane as principal in 2022, Mundell explained to The Enterprise the district’s philosophy in investing in its own staff for leadership development.

“We know from prior searches, and from networking with colleagues in the field, that candidate pools are very thin,” Mundell said. “In the last two years we have also seen several staff members in our system undertake steps toward administrative certification. As a system, we have supported their individual efforts and we encourage their leadership and administrative growth.”

When The Enterprise asked Lovell questions about how the board chose Kane and whether it had considered other candidates, particularly any outside the district, she responded at length: “As a board member and educator, I have observed the shifting landscape of the educational world. This includes a decrease in the number of résumés submitted for open positions, a high turnover rate in many districts, and a general reduction in the number of qualified teachers and administrators available. Recognizing the need for stability in our schools, we have adapted our approach accordingly.

“I must admit that I was initially hesitant to embrace this change. However, I have since recognized the significance of our collective efforts in shaping what we have established as a roadmap for success at BKW. Despite the challenges posed by the current educational climate, we have achieved a level of stability that is unparalleled in recent years.

“We hold our employees to high expectations and standards, ensuring that they are well-suited for their roles within our district. Simultaneously, we create pathways for professional growth and advancement, thereby providing our staff with opportunities to flourish without needing to seek employment elsewhere.

“Faced with the task of replacing a Superintendent, and the important responsibility this is, and with all of our experiences in mind, we have thoroughly reviewed our current team of administrators, assessing their qualifications and leadership capabilities and therefore Bonnie Kane and Mark Tidd were appointed into the positions Monday evening that they are well qualified for.”

Kane’s three-year term will begin on July 1. 

Tidd, following his appointment as principal, said at the meeting that he was  “excited about this new opportunity,” noting that he has spent his entire career at BKW.

Like the budget, the appointments were made by a 4-to-0 vote. 

More Hilltowns News

  • The results still need to be certified by the New York State Board of Elections later this month, but official county-level results show that Janet Tweed, a member of the Delhi Village Board, has eked out a roughly 80-vote win over retired teacher and activist Mary Finneran.

  • Berne-Knox-Westerlo Superintendent Bonnie Kane is in her first month in that role, having previously served as the district’s high school principal for two years and as an English teacher before that. 

  • The former Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville has reorganized itself as Hilltown Commons, with new leadership that aims to ditch the “heady” and “highfalutin’” ideals of the globally-oriented not-for-profit, as the de facto executive Virginia Thomson put it, in favor of a grassroots approach to social betterment. 

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