BKW embraces a $21.9M budget and new board member

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Casting queue: Berne-Knox-Westerlo Central School District voters step up to each receive a number before entering the voting booths in the auditorium on May 20. Two-thirds of the voters approved a $21.9 million budget by 66 percent, and 80 percent approved a bus proposition. For school board seats, Vasilios Lefkaditis and Russell Chauvot had the most votes.

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

The role of the school board was an issue raised when Vasilios Lefkaditis requested detailed calculations used by the Berne-Knox-Westerlo business office for contract negotiations with the Civil Service Employees’ Association. Flanking him are board members Joan Adriance, left, and Gerald Larghe, right. Lefkaditis won another three-year term on the school board last Tuesday.

BERNE — Voters replaced Chasity McGivern with Russell Chauvot on the school board — Vasilios Lefkaditis retained his seat — and passed the $21.9 million budget proposal that aims to take money from non-teaching operations and spend it on academic performance at Berne-Knox-Westerlo.

The 2014-15 budget, passed 443 to 224, includes several new expenses, but uses the same $10.9 million tax levy as last year. Increased state aid, reductions in bus runs, and shared services contributed to the adoption of a spending plan that doesn’t raise a larger amount of money from property owners but still spends 1.8 percent more than the 2013-14 year.

The bus proposition passed, 465 to 201. The total cost of the four new, mid-sized buses is $230,500, eligible for state aid reimbursement and paid for with $92,200 from reserve funds and a $138,300 five-year bond. Four other buses will be sold off.

In September, individual tax bills may vary from last year based on any changes in each municipality’s tax roll. They will apply the veterans’ alternative property tax exemption, new for the school district this year, which school officials expect will raise non-veteran property owners’ taxes by 0.58 to 0.88 percent.

One of the most talked-over cost-cutting measures for the next school year was the consolidation of BKW’s food services into one kitchen, saving money on salaries and benefits. BKW currently shares its food-services director with Greenville Central School District. The board also approved sharing the costs of its business office and an operations and maintenance supervisor as part of the new budget.

Calculations by the district total more than $1 million in new spending and $880,000 in savings from the new budget. It includes hiring 19 instructional employees.

The new spending is for one full-time secondary-school music teacher, a full-time computer-science and business teacher, a program that pays students to work on the district’s technology support services, eight certified teachers as teaching assistants, one math teacher for additional academic support in the secondary school, expanding the hours of the elementary librarian, hiring a part-time science teacher to co-teach in the elementary school, training and coaching for teachers, a job coach for special-education students, hiring six part-time teachers’ aids for the elementary school, and an additional class for each of nine secondary school teachers. The new budget also includes money for equipment repair.

To reduce costs, the district replaced six retiring teachers with less costly new staff, reduced two food-service positions to part-time, eliminated five bus runs with bus aids, shared its business official with Duanesburg, used Board of Cooperative Educational Services business services, and consolidated its operations and maintenance.

School board

Incumbent Lefkaditis, the board’s most frequent dissenter, garnered 406 votes, McGivern had 329, and Chauvot had 477.

A total of 692 ballots were cast, nine of which were absentee ballots.

Asked about the turnout, Chauvot said, “I don’t really have a good answer as to why that might be except for there’s just not enough information out to the public. Those who are always involved in the community are involved and they get in to vote.”

“Because there was a zero-percent tax levy increase, I don’t think anyone was expecting a high turnout,” Lefkaditis said.

Lefkaditis voted against the $21,921,272 budget, as he did the year before. He voted against the plan for consolidating food services, as well, saying too many questions were unanswered to be sure it would be safe.

“I think we put ourselves in a tight spot financially and I hope it works out in the long run,” Lefkaditis said of the 2014-15 budget on Wednesday.

“As a voter, I’m happy that it passed, because I know that, whatever the school board came to in agreement with the school, or the administration, I’m assuming they’re putting forth what they think is best for us,” Chauvot said of the budget.

Lefkaditis, a manager for a real-estate equity firm, has been critical of the level of spending; pushing for more modest plans and adjusted calculations for assessing the impacts of settling contracts that have been lapsed for years.

Lefkaditis, along with Gerald Larghe, abstained from voting on the past two collective bargaining agreements, with Teacher Support Staff and the Teachers’ Association. For both, other board members overrode his requests for special meetings to address what he said were inaccuracies in calculations.

The three-member majority that approved the contracts included McGivern, Earl Barcomb, and Joan Adriance.

At the May 12 board meeting, Lefkaditis requested a detailed presentation of the calculations used by the district as it negotiates an agreement with the final unit, the Civil Service Employees’ Association.

“We can show data,” said Lonnie Palmer, the interim superintendent. “What I don’t want is for you to manipulate or change the data.”

The motion passed with Lefkaditis, Larghe, and Adriance in favor. Barcomb and McGivern both abstained, telling The Enterprise that they didn’t have an opportunity to ask questions when Lefkaditis called the question, a procedural measure that, after a vote, compels action, according to Roberts’ Rules of Order. The board didn’t vote on his calling the question.

Letters to the Enterprise editor in support of Lefkaditis in recent weeks praised his scrutiny as a board member.

“We don’t need a rubber stamp, and that’s true,” Chauvot said of the board yesterday. “We need bits and pieces from each personality, but hopefully it can be moderated.”

After an 18-year career in the United States Army, Chauvot works for The Research Foundation for the State University of New York as a trainer on computer applications for the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

He has had two children attend BKW, his own alma mater. His son, Alex, is a senior this year.

“I believe I probably garnered a little more support that way, because people knew me and hoping that what they know of me would be a reflection on the board itself, which, we talked about earlier, is bringing a bit of harmony to the board,” said Chauvot.

In the next few months, Chauvot will take training as a school board member. Lefkaditis invited Chauvot, pending other members’ approval, to join them in their meetings of executive session in the coming weeks before he takes his seat, starting a new three-year term, in July.

McGivern was sworn in just after the results were read on Election Night last year, to fill the vacated seat of Maureen Sikule.

McGivern, who hadn’t posted roadside campaign signs, suggested not promoting her candidacy was a factor in her fewer number of votes. She said she would stay active in Sports Boosters, Bulldog Pride, and her effort as a school board member to pursue a grant through the United States Department of Agriculture. The Farm to School initiative would fund connections between local farms and the school’s food services, McGivern explained in April, and enhance the school’s curriculum.

Federal guidelines meant to introduce more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into school meals have been attributed to decreased satisfaction in students nationwide.

Among the board’s accomplishments during her year as a member, McGivern spoke of the two contracts that were settled and a budget development process that helped people participate.

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