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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 23, 2011

Second budget defeat leads to contingency plan

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s budget proposal went down for a second time Tuesday night, by a wider margin than the first defeat last month, and with lower voter turnout.

“I think we’re all disappointed,” said school board President Maureen Sikule when the board convened after the polls closed Tuesday. Now that the district’s proposal has been voted down again, the school board must adopt a contingency plan, with a state-set spending cap. This will be the second year in a row that BKW is operating on a contingency budget.

BKW’s business official, Kevin Callagy, said after the first vote that a contingency plan would total $20,864,904, a decrease of $53,073 from the district’s twice-defeated proposal, but would mean an increase of $1.2 million from the current budget.

The $21 million budget included a $1.3 million increase from the current contingency budget, raising the taxy levy by 3.5 percent, to $10.7 million.

Of the 732 district residents that cast their votes Tuesday, 325 were in favor, and 407 were opposed — a difference of 82 votes. Last month, the budget went down by 28 votes, with 451 residents voting in favor, and 479 residents opposed.

“I would’ve like to see it go through,” said Superintendent Paul Dorward Tuesday night, “but I think we had sound reason for putting it back up again; there were some indications that there might have been some confusion about the issue of the tax levy.”

He added, “In general, what had come up was that some people thought the cuts had been too deep, too much of an impact on the program, and didn’t really understand some of the things we were able to accomplish, such as bringing on additional electives and so on.”

The board, last month, approved the addition of several elective courses for next year. Dorward said then that it would be adding these courses because the district cannot control what courses will be offered through distance learning in the future, adding that these courses may not be offered in the long term.

Three new classes will be available to sophomores, juniors, and seniors: American History Through Film; Local History; and Mathematics Applications in the Real World.

And the following courses will be available only to juniors and seniors: History of the 1960s; a history class on the Holocaust; Topics in English Through Literature; Topics in Social Studies Through Literature; and Algebra for College-Bound Students.

Contract changes

Also on Tuesday, the board approved a change to Dorward’s contract, replacing his disability insurance with a health reimbursement account (HRA). This type of plan, funded by the employer, reimburses the employee for medical costs not covered in standard insurance plans.

Onto contingency

Callagy explained that the $53,000 difference is made up by three components.

“There are our non-contractual employees; any raise that was built into the budget for them, we’d have to take out,” Callagy said then. “That same group, because we’re on a contingency budget this year, that group didn’t get raises.”

Non-contractual employees include clerical staff, building mechanics, transportation mechanics, the food-service supervisor, and the transportation supervisor. Their raises account for $21,073 of the total reduction from the rejected budget, Callagy said.

And, a total of $7,000, divided among the different offices in the district, which would have gone towards the purchase of non-essential equipment, will now be taken out of the budget. Callagy gave the following example of a non-essential equipment purchase.

“If I’m sitting here thinking, ‘Boy, I’d love a new computer on my desk,’ but the one I have is working, we wouldn’t be able to replace that,” Callagy explained. “But, if my computer crashes, it probably could be ruled that it’s essential for the business official to have a new computer. It really depends on the reason for buying the new equipment. So, we have $7,000 between the different offices for that kind of stuff.”

And, under the defeated plan, $25,000 would have been transferred into a fund for the district’s food-service program, but state guidelines for contingency budgets prevent that transfer, said Callagy.

“It doesn’t mean we’re not going to have a food program,” he said. “We’ll have to look to make adjustments in the budget itself for food service because it’s not in the general fund.”

He went on, “There are still other sources of revenue. There are reimbursements we’ve received; reimbursements for kids that qualify for free lunch; reimbursements for meals that qualify for reduced lunch. We’d have to look at that. You only get the reimbursement based on the number of meals in each category.”

The adoption of a contingency plan also affects the public use of district facilities.

“There are some other guidelines that we would have to follow in terms of making sure that, if there’s community use of the buildings, that it’s not at a loss to the district,” said Callagy. “So, the community would have to pay if they need custodial services, which I think we do anyways. It does affect how we have to calculate the rental fees for using school facilities. If there are any either direct or indirect costs for allowing the community use of the building, then we have to charge for that.”

Second down

The same $21 million proposal that went down Tuesday was defeated in May by 28 votes.

BKW is expecting $8.7 million in state aid — $7.1 million in program aid, and $1.6 million in building aid — with an additional $384,463 in revenue coming from the federal education jobs fund, and $158,058 from gap elimination adjustment (GEA) restoration.

The defeated plan would have used $1 million from the district’s unexpended fund balance, commonly referred to as its rainy-day fund. School districts, by law, can keep no more than 4 percent of the next year’s total budget in an unexpended fund balance.

Total costs for instruction at BKW were down by 5.3 percent, from $9.6 million this year, to $9.1 million in the proposed 2011-12 budget. Transportation costs, on the other hand, rose by 4 percent, from $1.53 million, to $1.6 million.

Employee benefits would have increased by $608,605, from $5.7 million, to $6.3 million.

Also, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, this spring, certified amounts from districts’ employee benefits accrued liability reserves, or EBALR funds, that can be used by school districts to offset budget cuts; BKW, the only district in Albany County on DiNapoli’s list, would have used $200,000 of its $494,224 reserve to fund next year’s budget.

EBALR funds go towards post-employment pay for accrued and unused sick leave, holiday leave, vacation leave, time allowance granted in lieu of overtime compensation, and other forms of leave time.

The contingency budget, like the defeated plan, will include the following staff cuts and reductions, saving a total of $240,370 compared to this year:

— Cutting a part-time English teacher who works eight-tenths of full-time, saving $63,348;

— Cutting a part-time math teacher who works six-tenths of full-time, saving $44,688;

— Cutting a part-time science teacher who works four-tenths of full-time, saving $19,962;

— Reducing a full-time social studies teacher to two-tenths of full-time, saving $12,516;

— Reducing a full-time math teacher to four-tenths of full-time, saving $19,962; and

— Cutting a full-time science position, saving $79,894. The board approved Sheila Martin’s leave of absence from this position on Monday, and she will not be replaced this year.

The contingent budget, like the rejected plan, also cuts five junior varsity sports teams, saving a total of $12,958: boys’ and girls’ soccer, cheerleading, softball, and baseball.

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