Group to explore long-term solutions to fiscal crisis
If there’s anything the past two years have shown municipal bodies, it’s that, financially, things aren’t getting any easier.
A down economy has rippled its way through every aspect of government, including the state of New York’s finances, and local entities, especially school districts, have felt the waves in declining state aid. This past year along, Bethlehem Central School District lost approximately $2.5 million in aid.
Leaders in the school district are hoping to find some creative solutions to the crisis through a Budget Think Tank, which will start meeting in September. The committee will be a fairly large group tasked with taking a look at the big picture, said district Superintendent Michael Tebbano.
`This is a working task force of representatives from community organizations, teachers, support staff, administrators, parents from each school, that will really dig into what kinds of long-term savings we should be looking at to try and get a head start on issues with the economy,` he said.
The last time such a group was convened was when the district was planning its bonding project six years ago, said Tebbano. He emphasized the committee will be separate from community budget forums that are held in the winter, though its findings will be discussed during that process.
What the Think Tank probably won’t hit on are line-by-line cuts that were painstakingly selected during this year’s budget process. The Board of Education ` and voters ` ended up approving an $88.3 million budget that included teacher and administrator reductions, an increase in lunch prices, cuts to extracurricular budgets and an increase in the walking distance from the high school. The board found about $1.9 million in cuts (the budget still was a 0.8 percent increase from the previous year’s, mostly due to contractual and insurance spending increases).
Tebbano said he hopes the Think Tanks sessions will be different from the community budget forums, where much of the time is spent telling the public the district’s position and ideas for the budget. Instead, the Think Tank will hopefully be a place where ideas can flow more freely and everyone’s thoughts can receive due consideration.
Possible topics will include the district’s use of facilities and the possibility of combining them to save money, instructional restructuring, energy efficiencies and contractual matters. The committee won’t be involved in any contract negotiations, though.
Tebbano acknowledged keeping such a large group on task while leaving the process open might be a challenge.
`I’m hoping that we’re going to be able to structure our meetings in such a way where people will have a voice, where there’s an agenda we’re going to stick to,` he said.
The first Think Tank meeting will be Tuesday, Sept. 21, at the district offices. The group will meet monthly during the fall and winter.
The meetings will be open to the public and there will be a portion of the meeting dedicated to public comment, but like at Board of Education meetings, the rest of the agenda will involve discussion between committee members.“