BKW adopts contingency budget in split vote

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Berne-Knox-Westerlo will be eliminating its late bus runs/school resource officer as part of the many reductions it has to make for its 2024-25 contingency budget, which is roughly $563,000 less than the original proposal and keeps taxes at the same level.

HILLTOWNS — After having its original $26 million budget proposal voted down twice by district residents, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Board of Education voted 3-to-2 on Monday night to adopt its state-required contingency budget, which maintains the roughly $11 million tax levy at the expense of several district programs.

Cuts announced by Superintendent Timothy Mundell, who is about to retire, included six faculty and staff posts, namely two teachers, three aids, and an administrative assistant, along with the associated benefits; the school resource officer program; Bulldog Club and other after-school programs; graduation at The Egg; late-bus runs; field trips; salary increases for non-union employees; tech assistance; supplies; and more. 

That leaves the overall budget at $25,789,262 — a 0.58 percent increase over the 2023-24 budget, and roughly $563,000 less than the proposed 2024-25 budget that would have raised property taxes by 5.1 percent. 

In May, the proposed budget fell short by just eight votes of the 60-percent threshold it needed because of the tax increase that pierced the state-set cap, and then failed by 28 votes with a much larger turnout on June 18, after the board decided not to make any amendments to the proposal. 

Board members Nathan Elble and Lisa Joslin both voted against the contingency proposal, offering only brief remarks that yielded no further discussion.

Elble said that, while the budget was in the best interest for the upcoming school year, it would put the district at a disadvantage in later budget seasons. 

Joslin said that she could not, “as a matter of personal integrity,” vote “yes” since the cuts were not spread out to include sports and activity lines. 

“I explained to our students, our community, and our staff that we would be looking at other lines that need to be cut as well, not in full,” she said. 

President Kimberly Lovell, and board members Rebecca Miller and Matthew Tedeschi voted in favor of the contingency plan.

“It was a hard decision for the group,” Mundell told The Enterprise in an email after the vote. “Each member has their own perspectives and each understands the challenges ahead with the foundation aid study and what is at stake for all the rural communities. Diverse thinking on that issue is an important path to the solution for equitable funding distribution. 

“It is not a one size fits all proposition. Our Board's vote last night reflected their divergent thinking on how to best prepare our community for the future. On the surface, it may look like a ‘split vote’, but their intent individually and collectively is to sustain our community, not just school district, but community through what very well could be an underlying attempt to force regionalization on rural districts by squeezing funding. 

“For the good of the district and community, the task is to ensure the organization can make the pivot without losing step, and more so, to be the leader in the process toward regionalization, whatever that may look like in the future. Each Board member understands the stakes and they are collectively committed to that effort. Seeing multiple pathways offers more opportunities than either/or propositions.”

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