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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 17, 2011

BKW and teachers’ union at impasse

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — With the second community budget forum approaching, the superintendent said Wednesday that the district has reached a stalemate in negotiations with the teachers’ union. And, while next year’s spending plan is still a work in progress, there will be some administrative restructuring in Berne-Knox-Westerlo.

“We have officially come to impasse with the teachers’ unit,” said Superintendent Paul Dorward, who came to BKW this summer. “Ultimately, our goal is to come to agreement with the teachers unit; as of today, both sides have been unable to do that.”

The two groups will be working with a mediator from the New York State Public Employment Relations Board to reach an agreement, he said.

The 30-step contract expired in June of 2009, but remains in place until an agreement is reached on a new contract. Teachers climb one step each year; on the first step, a teacher earns $38,350; on the 30th step, a teacher earns $86,874.

In previous years, residents have confronted the teachers on accepting more of the financial burden in the ongoing budget crises by paying more for their benefits, and members of the school board said earlier this month that they would be making the same request of both teachers and retirees.

Budget update

Business Official Kevin Callagy said Wednesday that, after new numbers came in Tuesday night, the district is likely looking at a draft budget of $21,149,974. The current budget is $19.64 million, and the governor has proposed further cutting state aid, which funds about half of BKW’s costs.

In addition, Dorward said that the district’s dean of student’s position, which has been held by Brian Keller since the fall of 2009, is being eliminated, and Keller will no longer be employed by BKW. Dorward said, however, that there will be someone acting in the capacity of a hall monitor.

The district will also be restoring an academic support position; two full-time academic-intervention-services (AIS) teachers were eliminated in this year’s budget, and the administration recently acknowledged the need for additional support, Dorward said.

The district is creating a new administrative position that will have three responsibilities: director of special education, a position currently held by Elementary Principal Brian Corey; chair of the committees on special education and pre-school special education (CSE/CPSE), a position currently held by Melissa Crounse; and data warehouse manager.

“We have three different individuals getting stipends to do that,” said Dorward of the previous arrangement, though he did not mention who would be taking on this new, three-pronged position. Corey will work full-time as elementary principal, and Crounse will still work part-time as the CSE/CPSE chair, though she will shift to spending most of her time in the classroom teaching special-education students.

She will be restored for eight-tenths of a teaching position, said Dorward, “which will help to offset the need to hire another special ed. teacher.” He went on, “This is not in any way because they haven’t done a good job. I think they did an admirable job under the circumstances.” But, with nearly one-fifth of BKW’s students classified as needing special education, “it’s important to have somebody watching over that full-time,” he said.

First forum

The district’s second budget forum is set to take place on Tuesday, March 22, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the secondary school auditorium, and the administrators have asked residents to respond online to let them know they are coming.

Dorward and Callagy answered questions this week about information presented at the first forum last week.

After a brief introduction by Dorward and Callagy on the fiscal situation faced by the district, residents at the forum were broken up into five smaller groups, which met in separate classrooms to discuss next year’s budget and answer a number of questions. The first discussion revolved around what residents value most in education at BKW; in what areas BKW excels; and whether or not there are any educational needs that are not being met.

“I’ve always felt that, whatever my child needed, they got,” said one satisfied mother; another added, “My kids have been very well prepared for college.”

One man expressed concern that, while the arts and athletics are an important part of a child’s education, they are the first to be considered for elimination.

“Somebody doesn’t realize how important they are,” he said.

Joseph Golden, a Berne Town Board member and former school board member whose sister is currently on the board, also serves on the district’s budget advisory committee. He urged residents to “dig deeper” than simply going to the budget forums, and to get as much information as they can.

“Times have changed so drastically,” Golden said.

In response to whether there are any educational needs that are not being met, one man said, “There will be if you keep getting rid of teachers.”

The second discussion centered on a different question: How important is it that the district maintain as many of its programs and staff as possible, even if it means a tax-levy increase of 5 percent or more?

“If you’re asking me if a 5-percent increase is worth keeping programs — absolutely,” said one woman.

But many residents had difficulty answering this question.

“People are paying fairly good-sized tax amounts,” said Golden. “It’s not that they don’t care about the school; there are people that have to give up things in order to pay the school tax. It’s not all good versus evil here. It’s a very complicated process.”

One man concluded, “We can’t tell you yes or no. We can’t afford the taxes, but we can’t afford our children’s education to go to crap.”

Finally, residents were asked to look at a list of hypothetical staff and program cuts, but the consensus among residents was that they did not have enough information to form opinions on many of the cuts.

Cuts and numbers

Last month, the school board agreed to set a “soft target” for next year’s tax-levy increase at between 4 and 5 percent, while awaiting input from the budget forums.

At last week’s forum, residents were given a list of hypothetical cuts that the administration put together with that soft target in mind.

According to Callagy’s latest numbers, a 4-percent increase would equal $414,832, bringing the tax levy up to $10,785,623, and a 5-percent increase would equal $518,540, bringing the tax levy up to $10,889,331.

“I think there’s an excess of $690,000 worth of cuts” on the list, Dorward said Wednesday. “That’s obviously way more than we need to hit that target, but I did that intentionally because I wanted the groups to have an opportunity to actually look at it and consider the options.”

The list proposed cutting the full-day kindergarten program to half-day, saving between $60,000 and $70,000, and cutting both the daytime and nighttime GED (General Education Development) programs, costing $2,625 and $3,600 respectively, as there is currently very low enrollment in the daytime program, and no current BKW students are enrolled in the nighttime program. (The nighttime program serves the parents of BKW students and former BKW students.)

“The kindergarten, the reason that’s on there is because we’re not required to run full-day kindergarten,” said Dorward. “We’re not necessarily going to do that, but that’s why it’s on there… I think having a full-day kindergarten prepares our students for the upper grade levels, and cutting that may require additional support for students. We’re having to make these decisions because of the reductions in aid and rising costs.”

The list also proposed cutting the following 12 employees, resulting in savings within the following ranges:

— Two full-time secondary school English teachers, saving around $70,000 each;

— A part-time secondary school English teacher, saving $60,000 to $70,000;

— A full-time secondary school math teacher, $50,000 to $60,000;

— A part-time secondary school math teacher, $40,000 to $50,000;

— A full-time secondary school science teacher, $70,000 to $80,000;

— A part-time secondary school science teacher, $15,000 to 25,000;

— Two full-time secondary school social studies teachers, around $80,000 each;

— A secretary, $40,000 to 50,000;

— A track assistant, $1,500 to $2,500; and

— A cross-country assistant, $1,500 to $2,000.

Last year, the district saved $1.3 million dollars by cutting 19 employees, and was later able to strategically eliminate five regular bus runs, which resulted in a net savings of $21,000, while cutting five bus drivers. The district will be eliminating two more regular runs this fall, resulting in a net savings of $9,300.

The list also proposed these program cuts, resulting in the following savings:

— Bowling, $9,100;

— Elementary Student Senate, $1,262;

— Golf, $6,082;

— High school chamber singers, $832;

— High school newspaper, $864 per issue;

— Middle school selected chorus, $832; and

— Junior varsity sports, $27,990.

According to the list, the cutting of junior varsity sports is justified because there is “currently no JV boys soccer or baseball. Half of schools in [the Western Athletic Conference] are anticipating fielding JV teams. [Grades] 7-9 would be able to play on modified, and 10-12 on varsity teams.”

However, the district anticipates a $30,000 savings in utility costs in the coming year as a result of the energy performance contract, and $40,000 in savings over the next five years, resulting from the purchase, rather than lease, of four copiers.

“That’s a list of areas we’ve identified that were in consideration,” Dorward said of the list of cuts, “and we’re going to wait for input from the community forums…I think it’s safe to say that everything on that list is going to impact program.”

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