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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 8, 2010

At BKW: Petitioners protest budget

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — A group of Berne-Knox-Westerlo taxpayers, dissatisfied with the district’s recent budgetary moves, have assembled a petition to present to the school board in a desperate attempt to stop drastic cuts proposed for next year.

In anticipation of the $1.13-million drop in state aid, the most recent budget draft is a $19.7-million spending plan. It’s about $57,000 less than the current $19.8 million budget, with a 7.5-percent tax hike — an increase of $737,879.

While the school board met in the elementary school cafeteria last Wednesday, two-dozen dissenting residents met at the South Berne Congregational Church to plan their course of action.

The sentiment among those present was that the proposed tax increase is unaffordable. They wanted to hear more from teachers about making financial sacrifices, and they questioned the need for four administrators — a superintendent, a business official, an elementary school principal, and a secondary school principal.

The petition, drawn up over the past week, proposes 12 courses of action:

— Making taxes more affordable;

— Eliminating the school’s Board of Cooperative Educational Services communications position;

— Eliminating district-paid transportation to Tech Valley High and other off-campus programs;

— Restoring business classes;

— Adjusting the scheduling and sizes of college-level Advanced Placement courses;

— Eliminating an administrative position;

— Removing the bus proposition from the May 18 ballot;

— Reconsidering the $12-million-plus building project;

— Eliminating the energy performance contract;

— Eliminating the superintendent’s position;

— Eliminating the athletic director’s position; and

— Negotiating employee salaries and contracts.

“The taxpayers are tired of paying the bills while the students pay the price with an inadequate education,” the petition reads.

It also lists a series of demands — by the undersigned, of the district — in negotiations with the teachers’ union, which is working from an expired contract. One of the demands is a salary freeze.

The school board is scheduled to meet again on April 15. The public will vote on May 18 on whatever budget proposal the board adopts. (For in-depth coverage on the BKW budget proposal and community reaction, go online to www.altamontenterprise.com and look under Hilltown archives for March 26, 2010 and April 1, 2010.)

The petitions area available at locations across the Hilltowns, including the P & L Deli II and the public library in Berne; the Mobil station on Route 443 in East Berne; the M & B gas station on Route 85 and the P&L Deli in Westerlo; and Papa Joe's Knox Country Store on Route 156 in Knox.

“We need a board that’s going to push the administrators, or we need administrators that are going to push the teachers; right now, nobody’s pushing,” said Vasilios Lefkaditis, a district parent who sits on the school’s budget advisory committee and was present at last week’s meeting at the church. Lefkaditis said that he agrees with some points in the petition, but not with others.

“They have their salaries; they have their benefits; they go through the motions; it is what it is,” Lefkaditis concluded of district employees. “There’s no motivation, and I think complacency is the norm. The rest of us? We screw up in our jobs, we’re gone.”

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