Voters in the Bethlehem Central School District approved a 2014-15 school year budget Tuesday, May 20, by a margin of 2,496 votes to 1,140 votes.
Nearly 69 percent of voters approved of the $92,627,000 spending plan, which carries a 2.99 percent increase to the property tax levy. Spending will increase by more than $2.2 million for the coming year.
“As every year, the results of the budget vote is really the will of the people,” said Superintendent Tom Douglas. “I think the board has done an outstanding job throughout the whole process of trying to keep in mind the fiscal realities of the state, as well as the community.”
This year’s budget was below the allowable tax cap of 3.12 percent.
To balance the budget, the district used about $1.4 million from its fund balance. Bethlehem schools also received some restoration of state aid to close the $4.8 million budget gap, along with spending reductions and savings from district contracts, such as utilities and insurance.
The spending plan will mean a net reduction of 3.8 full-time equivalent instructional staff and the reduction of one social worker. This is mostly due to shrinking enrollment rates. Some money would be restored for field trips, technology purchases and the purchase of a snow removal instrument for the Transportation Department.
“In general, I hope with an almost 70 percent approval rating that that shows something about this community’s dedication to education,” said Douglas.
School officials said there was a drop in the number of voters this year. About 200 fewer people voted for this budget than for the 2013-14 spending plan.
Douglas said he and the school board always hope the majority of the community will show up, adding it’s the one vote across the state where the people get to decide on a municipality’s budget.
“We always wish there was more participation. However, with four or five years of fiscal slashing, we’re still on that trend, but we’re trying to dig ourselves out of a hole that was made to bail out the state government,” said Douglas. “What happens is people get numb to it, even if we hope they don’t.”
The superintendent said Bethlehem is one of the top school districts in the state, and school officials feel students receive an excellent education for the money.
“We know it still does cost a lot for some in the community, and we try to be as respectful of that as possible,” said Douglas.
Also passed was a proposition to replace eight large buses. The measure was approved 2,156 to 1,445.
In addition, incumbents Matthew Downey and Joanne Cunningham will remain on the school board for three-year terms. Joining them will be Christine Beck, who will be taking over the position left by Caitrin Navarro.
Downey said he would focus on addressing the Gap Elimination Adjustment in the coming year. “Until we get the finances in order in terms of growing programs — because we’ve been cutting every year — there isn’t anything else we can do.”
Cunningham said she wants to continue further work on transparency, while Beck said she wants to help implement a three-year budget plan for the district instead of working on it each year.
RCS budget passes
The Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk budget passed 1,009 to 423. The $42.3 million spending plan will raise taxes by an estimated 1,88 percent.
Voters elected three new Board of Education members, Michael Jones, William McFerran and Tina Furst-Hotaling.