BETHLEHEM — Following a restoration of state aid, Bethlehem residents passed the district’s $94.1 million spending plan for the 2015-16 school year by a wide margin.
On Tuesday, May 19, the budget passed by a margin of 2,376 votes to 671 votes. Voters will now see a tax levy increase of just .45 percent, which is the second-lowest increase ever presented to district voters.
“I would like to personally thank the BC community for its overwhelming support of next year’s schools budget,” said Superintendent Thomas Douglas. “Working to maintain educational excellence through a long stretch of difficult years has required a community collaboration and our community has delivered.”
The district’s tax cap was reduced through an infusion of state aid, which overall totals $25.55 million. About $1.1 million withheld through the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) was restored in next school year’s budget, with overall state aid increasing nearly 10 percent.
The proposed budget is estimated to hold an $11 tax increase for a $250,000 home. The estimated tax rate for Bethlehem homeowners is $20.81 per $1,000 of assessed value, which is an increase of 0.21 percent. The estimated New Scotland homeowner tax rate is essentially the same.
“My hope is that with this budget, we are entering a period where we can strengthen education in Bethlehem even further. However, we are not without our challenges,” said Douglas. “Outside of a list of ever-changing state mandates, the district continues to have funds withheld from the state through the Gap Elimination Adjustment, tipping the total GEA loss for Bethlehem over the $20 million mark. It is imperative that we keep the pressure on our lawmakers to make good on their promises to eliminate the GEA next year.”
This year’s budget includes increased staffing at all the districts elementary schools. Other budget additions included reducing class sizes, increasing student electives, support services to help struggling learners, bolstering crews to maintain new playing fields and support for extracurricular activities and student-athletes.
Voters also passed two propositions last week. Eight buses will be replaced by the district at a cost of about $1 million, and the district will establish a Capital Reserve Fund Saving. Funds in the reserve account allow the district to borrow less money for capital projects and reduce its debt burden.
In addition, both Lynne Lenhardt with 1,946 votes and Charmaine Wijeyesinghe with 1,725 votes were re-elected to the school board for three more years. Jonathan Fishbein came in third with 1,620 votes.
The Bethlehem Public Library budget passed by a margin of more than 78 percent.
The $3.7 million budget was approved 2,437 to 678. The levy was 1.3 percent higher then last year, but within the state’s allowable tax cap. Voters also elected Brian Sweeney and Lisa Scoons to the library board of trustees for five-year terms.
Voorheesville’s $23.1 million budget passed 573-193. It carries a 1.88 percent tax levy increase.
Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk’s $43.2 million budget passed 719-36. It carries a 1.65 percent tax levy increase.
Guilderland’s nearly $93.7 million budget passed 1,879-737. It carries a 2.76 percent tax levy increase.