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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 7, 2011

BKW to see increase in state aid

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — While the latest projections confirm most school districts’ fears of six- or seven-figure reductions in state aid, Berne-Knox-Westerlo is bucking the trend with an estimated $139,098 increase in funding from this year. The school board will meet tonight, Thursday, April 7, to discuss what this increase in aid means for the district.

While the latest state runs list BKW’s aid increase as $280,240, this number is inaccurate, according to the district’s business official, Kevin Callagy.

“When we get the runs after the governor proposes his budget,” Callagy explained, “the expense-driven aids, BOCES, the high-cost aids, the private-excess costs, the transportation — all of that is based on data that we’ve entered into the state-aid system through the end of October. When the legislature finally has a budget, they use a later database, and there will have been more information that we would have entered. The numbers that the governor’s proposal is based on are estimates of what our expenses are going to be; as we get actual numbers, those get adjusted.”

BKW, a rural district with about 1,000 students, is one of two districts in Albany County expecting an increase in aid, the other being the smaller Menands School District.

In March of last year, the district held a public meeting at which hundreds of BKW residents gathered in the high school auditorium and were offered a chance to speak their mind on the budget process. This year, however, the only hearing that will take place will be the legally required one, on May 9, at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium — long after the board has adopted a proposition and a week before the budget vote on May 17.

Callagy and Superintendent Paul Dorward said Tuesday that the larger community meetings like the one last March were replaced this year by the two recent forums, at which residents were divided into several smaller groups and assigned to classrooms to discuss budget issues.

And, the district will soon be advertising for the newly created position, a product of recent administrative restructuring, which 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.

Forum findings

At the second community budget forum on March 22, an audience of about 100 district residents was split into seven groups, each asked to list five items that should be cut, and five items that should not.

“I would say the big thing that came out of both forums combined is that there’s really not much combined support to move from full-day to half-day kindergarten,” Dorward told The Enterprise, referring to a list of possible cuts handed out at the first forum, which proposed cutting the district’s full-day kindergarten program to a half-day program. (For full coverage of the first forum and the full list of cuts, go to www.AltamontEnterprise.com and look under Hilltown archives for March 17, 2011).

“I think we had two groups that came to the point of full agreement out of seven,” Dorward said of the second forum, “so I’m not able to draw quite as many conclusions, but I’d say there was a willingness to look at [cutting] extracurriculars and sports as part of the solution.”

The forum yielded two other observations: The daytime and evening GED (General Education Development) programs, which currently cost the district $2,625 and $3,600 respectively, could be cut because they are offered elsewhere; and costs associated with the student newspaper could be cut by eliminating print costs and producing only an online version.

The district also discussed different ways of cutting staff to save money at the second forum.

“Part of what we explained to people is, if your group is recommending cutting a science teacher, be aware that we have to remove the [part-time teacher] first, before you look at a full-time position,” Dorward said. “When you’re looking to eliminate positions, it’s essentially an extension of the last-in, first-out rule. These part-time positions were new positions that were hired over the summer.”

Further, Doward went on, the district is considering the reduction of certain teachers’ hours rather than fully eliminating their positions.

“No matter what, through a reduction in time or reduction in position, you’re narrowing the amount of time you have available for your elective classes,” Dorward said of teachers. “Obviously, we’re going to meet our requirements on core areas, so it starts to affect extracurricular areas. The benefit is, you’d be able to retain a teacher that might otherwise leave.”

Asked if this would lead to fewer classes and larger classes sizes, he replied, “That would be true…If I reduce someone, that means reducing the number of periods they have been available to teach.”

Wages and benefits halt negotiations

Dorward said last month that the district had reached an impasse in its negotiations with the BKW Teachers’ Association, and the two groups will be working with a mediator from the New York State Public Employment Relations Board to reach an agreement on a new contract.

While Kelly Smith, president of the teachers’ union, declined to comment on the general issues at the root of the impasse, Dorward confirmed this week, “Wages, benefits; those would be the big issues.”

The union’s 30-step contract expired in June of 2009, but remains in place until an agreement is reached on a new contract, due to the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law; by the same token, as public employees, they cannot strike.

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.

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