The Bethlehem Board of Education officially started the 2008-09 budget season at its Wednesday, March 5, meeting.
Board members crunched numbers on the proposed $84.38 million preliminary baseline budget for this year. It represents a 7.2 percent increased over the amended 2007-08 budget of $78.34 million.
A proposed baseline budget is not the total finalized budget, but usually only represents the amount of money needed to continue current operations from last year and adjusted for current costs and essential programs. The March 5 finalized proposed budget is estimated around $84.87 million, according to district figures.
Part of the increase is attributed to the addition of Eagle Elementary School, which was not a part of last year’s budget, according to administrators. However, no new teachers will be hired, only the additional staff necessary to run the school, said Superintendent Les G. Loomis.
A $1.9 million increase in debt service this year marks the highest increase associated with the district’s ongoing building project, the district stated in a release last week. `The district has planned for this cost by keeping money in reserves to help stabilize the tax rate in light of such an increase this year.`
The baseline budget without debt service, meaning cash required over a given period for the repayment of interest and principal on a debt, would represent only a 4.7 percent increase.
`I want to emphasize the significance of the debt service graph. It’s going to make a big difference,` Loomis said, pointing to a line graph showing a steady drop until the 2010-11 budget. `It’s going to mean there are better days ahead for the school district.`
The debt service estimate on the graph showed a $1.92 million increase for the 2008-09 baseline budget that dropped to -$435,000 in the 2010-11 budget.
Along with the budget, voters will have to vote on a bus replacement proposition in May. The vote will now be taking place at Bethlehem High School following a unanimous decision by the board.
The last bus replacement proposition was voted down in 2006. This year the district wants to purchase 18 buses (nine large, six medium, and three small buses), at a cost of $1.36 million.
School officials described this as year two of three for `catching up` after the last bus purchase defeat. There are cost increases for model year 2007 buses because of new EPA emissions control mandates, and there will be new EPA standards in 2010.
The board discussed budget proposals for operations and maintenance; transportation and bus replacement plan; employee fringes and insurance; debt service; BOCES; additions to budget; and the budget to establish the Eagle School.
Coupled with looming education cuts from Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposed state budget, administrators are preparing for a tough year, but they point out that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Without the numbers on state aid, administrators said they are unsure of how the proposed budget will affect the tax rate.
The total increase for staffing to open the doors at Eagle Elementary will be $514,720, according to preliminary budget figures. The number reflects salaries and benefits. Dianna Reagan, a former elementary English language arts supervisor and Slingerlands teacher, was appointed as principal of the new school on Jan. 23. Her salary was listed as $129,900 out of Eagle’s tentative budget.
The baseline budget to establish Eagle includes $491,000 for expenses and $495,700 in funding costs.
Administrators were quick to point out that they have balanced out the district in placing teachers at Eagle, and did not `strip` any one school of qualified teachers.
The district also plans to increase the pay for substitute teachers.
`Our teacher substitutes are among the lowest paid substitutes in the area,` Loomis said. `That’s why we are increasing it.`
Currently substitutes are paid $75 a day at the school, which will be increased to $85. The district has earmarked a $45,000 increase to finance substitutes in the budget proposal.
`I think residents would be thrilled if we spent $300 million on education as long as it didn’t raise taxes,` said board president James Lytle.“