On Tuesday, April 9, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Board of Education members will hold the last of three community forums on developing the new school budget.
Starting at 7:30 pm in the O'Rourke Middle School cafetorium on Lakehill Road, the forum will focus on differences between the current year's and next year's spending plans.
Those who cannot attend in person can also participate online via a computer with high-speed internet access. (See details below.)
The Board of Education is currently considering a budget of $59,016,106 for the 2013-14 school year. This would represent a budget-to-budget increase of $2.1 million or 3.7 percent over the current year's budget of $56,912,454 and would cause a tax levy increase of 2.47 percent.
The new budget reflects both good news and bad news on expenses.
Like all school districts in the state, BH-BL is being hit with a large increase in required employer payments for staff pensions. According to assistant superintendent Chris Abdoo, the $2.1 million increase in the budget is driven almost entirely by increases to the two state pension systems and health insurance costs.
Payments that the district is required to make into the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) and Employee Retirement System (ERS) will increase by $1,484,605, while health insurance costs are expected to increase by $539,000.
Board of Education members have indicated that they do not wish to take advantage of the "pension smoothing" option being offered to schools because they would prefer to pay the district's obligations on time rather than incurring potentially more painful obligations down the road at a later date.
Other cost increases in the budget are offset by decreases in debt service (down by $112,000) and utilities (decreasing by $500,000 due to lower rates for natural gas and electricity).
Staff salaries would increase by $386,744, an amount that includes three new security staff and an increase of 0.8 full-time equivalent (FTE) teacher time.
The Board of Education is proposing to hire a full-time district director of security plus two security monitors. The latter would restore security monitor positions that were lost in budget-cutting efforts over the past three years. They would also help BH-BL keep the promise that superintendent Patrick McGrath made to parents to beef up security at school entrances in response to the Sandy Hook school shooting last December.
The 0.8 FTE increased in teacher time is being proposed so that the high school can add several elective class sections. McGrath currently expects these would be classes in robotics and advanced placement computer science, plus restoration of two previously cut classes that a large number of students have requested.
The Board of Education is also still discussing the possibility of changing from a half-day to a full-day kindergarten program in 2013-14. However, such a change would be "budget neutral," according to Abdoo. His calculations show that increased costs for more kindergarten teachers would be almost exactly offset by decreased busing costs, particularly fewer hours for bus drivers and fewer gallons of diesel fuel, since middle-of-the-day kindergarten bus runs would no longer be needed.
Other good news for the district came on April 1 when officials learned that the new state budget contains a significant increase in aid for BH-BL.
State revenue pays for roughly one-third of the district's budget. In 2013-14 state aid will total $19,318,497, up from $18,172,605 in the current year.
"While this is exciting news and we are very grateful for the increase, it's important for residents to understand the larger context that this comes after three years of reduced state aid and only brings us back to the level of aid we received four years ago in 2009-10," says McGrath. "The legislature's Gap Elimination Adjustment may be getter smaller each year as the state economy improves, but school districts across the state are still receiving less Foundation Aid than the law says we should receive."
Anyone with high speed internet access (and a computer with speakers so you can hear the presenters) who cannot attend the forum in person will be able to watch it and type in their comments live online. Shortly before 7:30 on April 9, a window into the forum will be available here: http://breeze.neric.org/bhblbudget_april9_2013/
Attending the meeting in person at the Middle School is the best way to share your comments and concerns with Board of Education members, but if this is not possible, online "attendance" is another option. For more details on how this technology works, see Online Forum information.
Board of Education members will be reviewing community input from Tuesday's forum at a Finance Committee meeting that has been moved to Wednesday, April 10, at 8:00 pm in the high school library.
They plan to adopt a 2013-14 budget at their regular business meeting on April 16 at 7:30 pm in the middle school library. The budget then goes before district voters on May 21.