2020-21 Proposed Budget

Proposed budget maintains student programming, reduces 19 positions and carries an estimated 1.98% tax rate increase

Absentee Ballots Due June 9

BH-BL residents are being asked to consider via absentee ballot a proposed Budget at a glace graphic$70.88 million budget that carries an estimated 1.98 percent tax rate increase for the 2020-21 school year. The proposal maintains all current academic programs and services for students while keeping the tax levy increase (2.90 percent) below the tax cap for the eighth consecutive year.

[Print-friendly 2020-21 Budget Newsletter]

Given the flat state foundation aid increase and the possibility of mid-year aid reductions , measures were taken to realize significant savings through the retirement or resignation of 19 instructional and non-instructional positions that will not be filled next school year.

The proposed spending plan reflects an increase of 1.92 percent, or $1,337,436, over the current school year. Contractual costs such as salaries and other benefits, health insurance, out-of-district student placements, etc. are driving next year’s spending increase.

The spending increase is balanced by a 1.92 increase in revenue, which includes a 0.7 percent increase in state aid, a 2.9 percent increase in tax levy, and applied fund balance.

Residents will also select three candidates for the board of education. Watch a recording of the Meet-the-Candidates Night from June 2.

In an executive order issued on May 1, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that this year’s school budget vote and board of education election will take place exclusively by absentee ballot due to the COVID-19 public health crisis. By law, the district must receive ballots by 5 p.m. on June 9, 2020.

Possible Aid Reductions

Governor Cuomo stated that New York State is facing a $13 billion deficit. At the time this newsletter went to print, there was no evidence Annual Budget Vote Continued from page 1 of additional federal funding. And the Governor’s budget, in an attempt to fill the state’s budget gap, still included state revenue review periods which could result in mid-year aid cuts to school districts.

“Given the uncertainty with school state aid, we believe the proposed budget will allow the district to continue to provide students with a high-quality education and maintain the programs and services BH-BL has been delivering,” says Board President Patrick Ziegler. “Plans are already in place should state aid be reduced and we are forced to revisit the budget mid year to make additional reductions.”

The 2020-21 school budget proposal includes the reduction of seven teaching positions, two nighttime custodians, a security monitor, a guidance secretary, and eight teaching assistants. Additionally, all five school building budgets for materials, supplies, and equipment have been reduced, and, in preparation for the possibility of mid year cuts, the district has already instituted a hiring freeze and administrative review of all vacated positions. If further reductions are necessary, a Budget Review Committee will be assembled to analyze and recommend other reductions and savings measures. The Committee would include staff, administrators, and community members.

The proposed budget also continues to include efforts that generate revenue. For instance, the district will continue to expand distance learning course offerings to other districts through the BOCES District Learning Network. This school year, participation in the program yielded $120,000 in revenue, or additional aid, to support distance learning teachers’ salaries. The district will also continue to seek grants and run Spartan Catering to bring in additional funding.


elementary student looking at a laptop computer

District pivots to remote learning during COVID-19 crisis

Survey reveals parents give BH-BL high grades

In mid-March, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, students and faculty had to abruptly shift their learning and teaching to a remote, online platform. Students went from their accustomed face-to-face interactions with their teachers to only digital connections. More than 3,100 Chromebook computers are on loan to K-12 students so they can stay connected and complete school assignments. While it’s not the ideal form of teaching and learning, staff and students have been making it work. They are staying connected through a variety of interactive platforms, such as Google Classroom (where teachers can post videos of lessons, notes, homework assignments, etc.) and Google Meet sessions where teachers and students connect in real-time for academic lessons, work on art projects, participate in physical education and music classes, and more. Teachers are also providing students with workbooks, textbooks, and other resources to complement their online instruction.

“The transition to online learning has been difficult for everyone. It’s hard not to be in the classroom with my peers and teachers,” says BH-BL High School student and Student Board of Education Representative Hannah Shell who’s attending Harvard in the fall. “But, through this process, we have all been constantly supported. The BH-BL staff and administration have been incredibly helpful while the whole world has seemingly turned upside down. While I miss being in the classroom, I am impressed and excited to see my teachers rally around the student body. I am proud and grateful to be a member of this district, especially right now.”

When remote education first began, there was a learning curve as students, parents, and teachers worked together to adapt to using the various classroom platforms, and the district streamlined communications about remote learning guidelines and expectations. These efforts paid off when the district received high marks in a recent survey in which nearly 1,400 parents participated. The results showed that close to 80% of the responses were favorable. The survey asked parents to rate their satisfaction level of the remote learning process; communication from teachers, principals, and the district; and the technology and associated support provided to students.

“We know this situation has been challenging and difficult at times for families,” says Superintendent Dr. Patrick McGrath. “One of our goals during this time was to be sure we provided parents and students with a level of stability and routine, and try to create an online learning environment that, to the best of our ability, modeled the instruction they were receiving in the classroom. It hasn’t always been easy but we are so thankful to our parents, staff, and students for being flexible, patient and supportive as we fine-tuned our transition to remote learning.”

BH-BL Community’s Continued Support

When faced with the COVID-19 crisis, the BH-BL community didn’t shy away. Residents and staff showed up in full force to offer support in a variety of ways. Teachers volunteered to hold professional development Google Meets to better familiarize their colleagues with remote technology. The technology staff delivered Chromebooks and hot spots to students who needed WiFi connections. Community members and businesses made monetary and gift card donations to the Spartan Community Fund to support families in need. A team of social workers, counselors, and support professionals connected with families to offer assistance. Staff cleared out students’ desks and lockers and bagged and labeled the items for pick up. Principals worked tirelessly to reorganize milestone events for students. Custodians added extra sanitation practices to their routines. Staff organized parades and virtual events to stay connected to students. The Food Service staff prepared 400 meals daily. And high school seniors, whose final year together was cut short, weathered this crisis with maturity and understanding.

“There is so much Spartan pride in this close-knit community,” adds McGrath. “And it has become even more apparent as everyone continues to rally together and go above and beyond to help and support each during this unusual situation.”

Board of Education Candidates

On the June 9 Absentee Ballot, residents may also elect three members to the Board of Education. To learn more about the candidates, the district will conduct a virtual Meet-the- Candidates Night on Tuesday, June 2 at 7 p.m. via Google Meet.

The statements of each candidates’ bio were written by the
candidates. The opinions contained within are theirs and may not reflect the opinions or views of BH-BL School District leaders or the Board of Education.

John Blowers joined the Board of Education in 2006 and has served in the past as president and vice president. He is also a member of the Board’s Long Term Strategic Planning Committee. He is a 1983 BH-BL graduate and holds an MBA from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. John is the Vice President, Operations for K&A Engineering Consulting, a multi-discipline engineering firm with operations in the United States and Nepal. He is also the author of the novel Life on Tilt. John coached CYO basketball and little league baseball for 12 seasons, and is the past Board Chair for Junior Achievement of Northeastern New York. He is a lifelong district resident, currently lives in Ballston Lake with his wife Danna, and has two children who graduated from BH-BL and one attending the high school.

“During the pandemic of 1918-19, the Albany School District closed its doors for 33 calendar days, and the local newspaper published weekly high school lessons. Los Angeles was widely regarded as on the cutting edge of innovative education delivery by developing a mail-in correspondence course for its secondary students. School closures during this time were coordinated between departments of health and boards of education to allow for local discretion. By government decree, NY school districts are currently facing a disruption of 35% of a school year, possibly more. BHBL was better prepared to deal with a rapid conversion to remote learning than most districts thanks to strategic investments in technology and professional development. Despite this preparation, the education experience is still developing. Some elements
of instruction are more compatible with distance learning than others. And while our seniors are feeling the most immediate effects of this shutdown, the longer-term impact to our students is yet to be determined.

What happens next will determine the student education experience for decades to come. State leadership has announced a plan to ‘re-imagine education.’ I can only imagine what this will look like and I doubt it will be focused on the needs of BH-BL students and community members. We need to come together as a community to determine the best approach for both educating students and funding the district. We have learned a great deal during the shutdown about what’s possible and what gaps exist. It will be critical for our shared decision-making process to guide efforts to apply lessons learned from the pandemic to emerge with a local solution to how the district operates.

My experience as a lifelong resident, BH-BL graduate, parent of two graduates and a current Spartan, business leader and the longest-tenured board member allows me broad perspective to district challenges. I would welcome the opportunity to continue serving the community as a board member and help the district navigate through this important time. I ask for your vote and encourage you to mail in your ballot today. Thank you in advance for your support.”

Don Marshall is seeking his second term on board. He served as a teacher in the Peace Corps in Africa after graduating from Butler University and also holds a master’s degree in social work from Syracuse University. Don worked as an educator and therapist with at-risk adolescents and their families his entire professional career. He was the Executive Director of The Charlton School for 30 years. In the past, Don was involved in leadership roles with community youth sports programs and served on several school committees. He also served on a statewide NFP Board of Trustees. He and his late wife, Karen, have lived in Burnt Hills for nearly 30 years. He has three grown children who all graduated from BH-BL High School.

“My name is Don Marshall and I am running for a second term on the BH-BL Board of Education. Even though my three children went through the BH-BL school system, it was not until I was on the Board that I came to fully appreciate how much work and dedication, at all levels, went into creating and supporting the tradition of quality education. The other important dynamic that I observed was the considerable effort and commitment, again at all levels, to the values of cost containment. There is great sensitivity within the district to the financial responsibility our community carries as it pursues a comprehensive education for children. This commitment to fiscal responsibility will always remain the cornerstone of our system.

Recent events have clearly demonstrated the need for schools to be prepared
for and responsive to a rapidly changing educational environment, even in extreme circumstances. I understand the adjustments have been hard on everyone. Students, parents and teachers had to adjust quickly to the new challenges of remote learning. However, I believe the District was prepared for this challenge—with a well established Distant Learning Program, advanced technological capabilities and the provision of individual Chromebook computers to our students. Still, the challenges of providing a quality education, from a distance, remains. The District is completely committed to provide a comprehensive on-line learning experience to our students until we can get them safely back into the classrooms. The upcoming school year will continue to be challenging for everyone. The District will be challenged on both the programmatic and the fiscal levels. I sincerely believe that we have the people, the values, the skills and a solid commitment to provide a meaningful and affordable education to our students, under all circumstances.

Please consider voting for me for a second and final term on the Board of Education. In return I will continue to extend my best effort and complete commitment to build on the quality education that we, as a District and as a community, have created for our students.”

Lakshmi Nargarajan is a 13-year resident who is seeking her first term on the board. She is the treasurer for the Pashley and O’Rourke PTAs, is involved in many school-related activities, and also volunteers for Junior Achievement. Lakshmi is a Senior Financial Advisor with Holistic Wealth Advisors. She holds her MBA from the University of Connecticut and is currently enrolled at College of Financial Planning where she is working to achieve the professional designation of Certified Financial Planner. She and her husband, James Vilics Jr, have two children in the district.

“It is in public education that the American dream begins to take shape.” – Tom Brokaw
“The connection between the school district, its taxpayers, and government leadership is vital to the prosperity of the community—affecting everything from quality of life issues like crime rates to economic factors like housing prices and employment. Our district’s ongoing success will continue the current work of the Board balancing fiscal responsibility with educational proficiency.

I am passionate about community involvement in our District. Constituents should be able to voice and debate different policies and proposals while administrators and educators should be empowered to implement best  practices. This process should be transparent to all stakeholders to encourage open communication and support. This is so important to students’ education as so much occurs outside of the traditional school day.

While local involvement is important at the district level, we need to stay innovative and competitive at state, national and global levels. Our community has the best perspective to determine what our needs are to continue the high levels of achievement for our District. Although we rely on financial support from the government, we should push back on mandates that do not make sense while maximizing monetary and infrastructure support for which we qualify. Competing demands for resources at all grade levels in the District must be considered when difficult decisions arise. These needs must be balanced against budgetary restrictions and constraints and the reality that taxpayers have priorities for tax dollars outside of education. Balancing all  stakeholder views leads to the community’s overall success.

As a resident of the BH-BL School District for 13 years, I love our community’s commitment to all its residents. My foremost responsibility is my two children; therefore I am fully committed to serving the District that influences their minds and futures. I am invested in the best interests of our community and our children so I will always look for a path that considers the betterment of both. I would be truly honored for the opportunity to serve on the Board of Education.

Are new buses being purchased for next year?

Yes, but like the past few years the cost of the new buses is included in the budget proposal rather than as a separate proposition. Bus purchases are done this way so the district doesn’t have to borrow funds and incur debt. The proposed budget includes $730,000 for the purchase of five 66-passenger buses and two 29-passenger buses to replace some of the district’s oldest buses. The district anticipates being reimbursed approximately 66 percent of the cost of the buses through state transportation aid in subsequent years, resulting in a net local cost of approximately $248,200.

Additionally, by purchasing buses outright, the district saves an estimated $15,000 in interest and legal fees associated with borrowing funds.

Bus replacement plan
The buses scheduled to be replaced in the 2020-21 school year are among the oldest in the district’s fleet and have already accumulated high mileage, exceeded their warranties, and undergone many maintenance repairs. Beyond certain limits, buses typically become too costly to maintain given the state’s stringent safety codes. Furthermore, new school buses are aligned with the latest safety and emissions standards and have better fuel economy rates.

BH-BL’s 69-bus fleet travels more than 750,000 miles a year, transporting more than 3,100 students to and from its five schools. The buses are also used for sporting events, out-of-district runs, shared transportation runs, field trips, summer school, and other events. In order to keep buses in safe working order, the district’s long-standing policy has been to replace several of the oldest buses each year.

Are there any tax savings programs available to help taxpayers?

Homeowners can receive a property tax exemption or credit under the School Tax Relief (STAR) program. The Basic STAR* exemption or credit is available on a homeowner’s primary residence for anyone who owns and lives in his/her own home. Homeowners who earn $500,000 or less can receive a STAR credit. Homeowners earning $250,000 or less can receive a STAR exemption or credit.

The Enhanced STAR exemption is available on the primary residence of taxpayers age 65 and older with yearly incomes of $88,050 or less.

Other tax relief options
BH-BL residents over the age of 65 with incomes of $37,400 or less also can be exempted from paying school taxes on 5 to 50 percent of their home’s assessed value depending on their exact income. The district also grants a disability exemption, ranging from 5 to 50 percent, for qualifying residents of any age with disabilities and incomes of less than $37,400. The board adopted the Alternative Veterans’ Tax Exemption at level 1, which allows qualifying veterans to be exempted from paying school taxes on a portion of their home’s assessed value depending on their military service. Applications for these district exemptions and for state STAR program must be filed with your town assessor’s office. Please visit your town’s website or call your town assessor if you have questions.

*STAR Program Savings: Please contact your town assessor’s office to learn more about the latest requirements for residents participating in the STAR program.

What happens if voters do not approve the proposed budget?

Under New York State law, if the school budget is defeated, the BH-BL Board of Education typically has two options: put the same or a modified budget up for another vote on the third Tuesday in June, or immediately adopt a contingent budget. If residents defeat the proposed budget during a second vote, the board must adopt a contingent budget. However, given the delay in this year’s initial vote to June 9, the date in law for a revote of June 16 would not be possible. Given this timeline, there’s a strong possibility that if the proposed budget is defeated, the board will move directly to adopt a contingent budget.

Contingent budget rules
Under New York state law, districts that adopt a contingent budget cannot increase the current tax levy by any amount—resulting in a zero percent tax levy increase.

Bringing the BH-BL tax levy increase down to zero would force the board to reduce the proposed budget by $1,193,926. In doing this, the board may not be able to adhere to its goal of preserving student programs and services or staff. It would also likely have to make a number of staff reductions across all schools, which would increase class sizes.

Adopting a contingent budget also prohibits a district from spending any money in certain areas, including community use of school facilities (unless all costs are reimbursed to the district); new equipment purchases including school buses; nonessential maintenance; capital expenditures (except in emergencies); salary increases for non-instructional and non-unionized employees; and certain field trips and student supplies. These requirements existed prior to the tax levy cap and remain in effect.

Tax Levy vs Tax Ratetax rate infographic

In the proposed 2020-21 budget, the overall property tax levy will increase 2.90 percent, which results in an estimated 1.98 percent tax rate increase. (See infographic.)

The tax levy is the total amount that a school district raises each year in taxes from all property owners. The tax rate is the amount of tax paid for each $1,000 of assessed value of property. In a growing district, the tax rate would be lower than the tax levy because the tax levy is spread out over a larger number of property owners.

Calculating tax rate increases is complicated by the fact that BH-BL is made up of parts of four towns. Each year, tax rate increases vary from town to town due to equalization rates that the New York State Office of Real Property Services (ORPS) announces in August. The school district plays no role in determining what portion of the tax burden is placed on any one town or any one property owner.

The state ORPS sets equalization rates that determine the portion of the total tax levy paid by each town, and the assessor in each town calculates individual assessments that determine how much is paid by each property owner.

Absentee Ballot Voting, No in-person voting this year

In an executive order issued on May 1, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that this year’s school budget vote and board of education election will take place exclusively by absentee ballot due to the COVID-19 public health crisis. Qualified voters will be mailed absentee ballots in early June. If you are a qualified voter but did NOT receive an absentee ballot, please contact the District Office at 518-399-9141. Ballots can also be picked up at the District Office weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Returning Ballots

Absentee ballots can be mailed in the district-provided, prepaid return envelope or dropped off in the same envelope at the District Office (Hostetter Leadership Center) entrance located at the High School, 88 Lakehill Road. The building is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Tuesday, June 9 the building will be open until 5 p.m.  By law, the district must receive ballots by 5 p.m. on June 9, 2020.

Qualified Voters

Qualified voters are defined as U.S. citizens who are 18 years or older, have lived in the district for at least 30 days prior to the vote, are registered to vote with the county or school district, and have not been disqualified by any reason set forth in NYS Election Law §5-106. Qualified voters who are already registered  to vote will automatically receive an absentee ballot. BH-BL residents who meet the definition of a “qualified voter” but have not registered to vote must do so to receive an absentee ballot. A qualified voter may do so by contacting their County Board of Elections or by going to the BH-BL District Office, Hostetter Leadership Center, 88 Lakehill Road, on May 27 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. (Please follow proper social distancing protocol (e.g., wear a nose and mouth covering). For questions about registering at BH-BL, please contact the Deputy District Clerk Rebecca Manson at rmanson@bhbl.org or 518-399-9141.