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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, September 8, 2005

Helderberg Christian leases Westerlo school

By Matt Cook

WESTERLO — Students will still come to the Westerlo School this fall, but for the first time in the building’s history, they won’t be public-school students.

The Helderberg Christian School and the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District settled on a one-year lease agreement for the Westerlo Elementary School building just in time to open it for the new school year on Friday.

The Christian school’s administrator credits God.

"The great thing is, we trust the Lord and he always meets our needs," said Helderberg Christian School Administrator Diane Hannay.

According to BKW Superintendent Steven Schrade, the BKW School Board voted to approve the lease, 3 to 1, at an emergency meeting Friday morning. Board member Joan Adriance was absent. Board member Maureen Sikule, a Westerlo resident, voted against the lease.

Sikule told The Enterprise she was not opposed to the lease, but the terms of renewal. According to Schrade, the lease is renewable after one year. However, according to the lease, Schrade said, "If the district feels it needs [the building] for student placement, it would be when the Westerlo student population reaches a threshold of 20 students per grade level."

"What I felt is, this limits our options for what we can identify as a future use of the school," Sikule said. She would have approved the lease if that provision were removed, Sikule said.

Schrade said the Westerlo kindergarten-student population has already reached the 20-student threshold.

In a decision that upset many Westerlo residents and Westerlo Elementary alumni, the school board voted unanimously in February to close the kindergarten-through-second-grade school for the 2005-06 school year. The board cited dropping enrollment district-wide.

The Westerlo Elementary Building is located on Route 401, just south of the hamlet of Westerlo.

By closing the school, the district estimated, it will save $100,894 on this school-year’s budget. The Westerlo-area students who would have attended the school are now going to Berne Elementary at the district’s main campus in Berne.

According to Schrade, the Helderberg Christian School will pay rent of $750 per month plus utilities. The Christian School will also be responsible for light maintenance and cleaning, including snowplowing and grass-mowing.

"The district is still responsible for the major maintenance of the building," Schrade said.

The Christian School will not alter the building, save for a few coats of paint, Schrade said.

"It preserves the building as a school," Schrade said. "That was one of the goals of the board."

Besides Helderberg Christian, no one else offered to lease the Westerlo Elementary building, Schrade said.

"Our own identity"

Hannay told The Enterprise she is thrilled Helderberg Christian is moving to a new location. Previously, the Christian school has been housed at the First Baptist Church of Westerlo and the South Berne Congregational Church.

"It’s an independent non-denominational Christian school. We don’t want to be associated with any one particular church," Hannay said. "It was important for us to have our own identity, in our own building."

The Westerlo Elementary building will be only a temporary home for the school, Hannay said. The school is developing plans to construct a permanent building in Westerlo, Hannay said.

"These things take some time," she said.

The Helderberg Christian School has about 50 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, Hannay said. Most of the students come from southern Albany County, as far as Bethlehem, and northern Greene County.

The school’s mission statement says: "The mission of Helderberg Christian School is to provide a program of academic excellence integrated with a view of the world from a Christian perspective. The school shall serve as an extension of the Christian home, established to train each student in the knowledge of God and the Christian way of life based upon the Bible."

While BKW starts school today (Thursday), Helderberg Christian was forced to push its opening back to Friday, to give staff and volunteers time to prepare the building.

"They’re working diligently as we speak," Hannay said on Tuesday.

Forty volunteers showed up at the school to help get it ready over the weekend, she said.

"It was wonderful. Everybody’s very excited about this," she said.

The Helderberg Christian School will keep children coming to the Westerlo school building, Hannay said, in a hamlet that draws a large part of its identity from the school.

"We feel that we will be helping the town," she said. "It’s really a perfect fit."

Tax levy increase

In another early-morning meeting, last Thursday, the BKW School Board voted, 3 to 2, to add $47,673 to this school-year’s tax levy. The money is to make up for an assessment error in Knox, in which some property was mislabeled as exempt from taxes.

At its last regularly-scheduled meeting, in August, the vote was tied, 2 to 2, as President Janet Finke was absent.

Thursday, Finke voted to collect the money, along with Karen Storm and Joan Adriance. At the August meeting, Storm warned against setting a bad precedent.

Edward Ackroyd and Sikule voted against collecting the money.

"Fifty-thousand dollars was the difference between approving and disapproving the budget," Ackroyd said at the August meeting.

The vote raised this year’s tax levy to $9,101,360.

According to Business Administrator Gregory Diefenbach, the tax rates per $1,000 of assessed property value for each town in the district are now:

—$26.004 for Berne, an increase of 4.5 percent over last year;

—$27.314 for Knox, an increase of 2.99 percent;

—$28.289 for New Scotland, an increase of 16.50 percent;

—$30.459 for Rensselaerville, an increase of 6.47 percent;

—$23.623 for Middleburgh, an increase of 14.45 percent;

—$22.329 for Wright, a decrease of 1.41 percent; and

—$1,856.997 for Westerlo, an increase of .73 percent.

The number is much higher in Westerlo because assessments are far below actual value.

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