Budget: $60,458,535 (1620 yes votes to 587 no votes)
Tax Rate Increase: 1.13%
Tax Levy Increase: 1.94%
Budget-to-Budget Increase: 2.44%
Budget Newsletter Details
On May 20, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District residents will go to the polls to vote on a proposed $60,458,535 budget for the 2014-15 school year. The budget calls for a tax levy increase of 1.94 percent (which is within the state’s tax levy cap), preserves current programs and services, and seeks to
position BH-BL for a strong educational and financial future.
The proposed budget reflects a spending increase of 2.44 percent, or $1.4 million, over the current school year (see chart on page 10). Despite the difficult financial times facing schools today, the board was mindful of two
important goals as it developed the budget: continuing its commitment to excellence by preserving BH-BL’s high-quality programs and services for students and being fiscally responsible to the community.
Like many districts throughout the state, BH-BL began developing its budget with a significant budget gap, due primarily to rising costs (e.g., contractual salaries, retirement system contributions) and the continued loss of state aid through the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA (see page 3). School leaders found savings of more than $670,000 in current programs, but must still use money from the district’s fund balance to fill the budget gap even after receiving a modest state aid increase of 2.6 percent in late April.
Although the increase in aid is welcomed, school officials caution that using the district’s fund balance to balance the budget does little to address the larger, systemic problem. Districts are still being denied their full state aid and are developing budgets within a tax levy limit. In BH-BL, this could eventually force the board to spend down its fund balance, cut programs and/or raise
“Conservative financial planning over the years means we can weather this revenue shortfall in the short term without cutting student programs or reducing staff,” says Superintendent Patrick McGrath. “However, in the era of a tax levy limit, our long-range financial planning model shows that continued state aid withholdings of this type cannot be sustained year after year.”
In fact, next school year nearly $1.5 million in aid will be withheld from BH-BL as a result of the GEA. Although the district will be back to receiving the level of state aid it did in 2010 before the GEA was enacted, five years of
inflation coupled with the cumulative aid loss of $12 million means revenues are still lacking. Fortunately, not all improvements for students have to come with a big price tag. School leaders were able to restructure and reallocate existing resources to create mostly budget-neutral opportunities for students.
“Cutting our academic program was not a viable option,” adds McGrath. “Instead, we made changes designed to continue providing students with a quality education, but with minimal increases.”
Here’s what’s included in the proposed 2014-15 budget
The proposed budget maintains the current year’s programs, services and staff and keeps class sizes stable districtwide. It also includes changes and improvements that are nearly all budget neutral. Take a look below.
AT BH-BL HIGH SCHOOL:
- Continues the district’s commitment to develop new courses for students, including Computer Science Principles, Exploring Computer Science, Media Production, and Personal Fitness.
- Addresses class size concerns by balancing the schedule and sections to allow for greater flexibility. It is projected the high school will have 56 fewer students next year.
- Explores new Early College High School offerings that will allow students to earn a full year of transcripted SUNY/Advanced Placement credits before graduation.
AT O’ROURKE MIDDLE SCHOOL:
- Supports a true teaming structure for grades 7 and 8 by allocating
resources to support the study and research of a school schedule
reconfiguration for the 2015-16 school year.
- Reorganizes existing staff to create 12 sixth-grade sections. Doing this maintains class sizes for students transitioning to the middle school and accommodates the enrollment increase of approximately 15 students.
AT THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS:
- Maintains the total number of class sections, based on enrollment projections.
- Improves the elementary enrichment program (PACE) by reorganizing existing staff to offer additional opportunities for students in kindergarten through grade 2. And, by using the existing BOCES budget, an introductory foreign language program will be offered to students at all three elementary schools. The course will be decided by BOCES, but would likely be either Chinese or Spanish.
- Increases the elementary summer school programming budget.
- Continues the district’s commitment to investing in instructional technology and includes an expansion of the current Chromebook laptop computer initiative to include students in grades 6 through 8. This means next school year every grade 3 through 8 classroom will be equipped with Chrome- books for student use.
- Reorganizes existing information technology staff for increased Chromebook professional development and technical assistance.
- Supports a state-aidable assistant transportation supervisor position to better support safe and efficient operations. This position will be financially supported through state aid and health insurance and retirement savings.
SAFETY & SECURITY TEAM:
- Continues to support the district’s safety and security initiatives (set in motion this year at the request of parents after the Newtown tragedy) by upgrading two existing substitute security monitors to permanent positions.
- Explores plans to improve the video camera system at the high school for continued student and building safety.
- Maintains current athletic programs and offerings.
- Supports the replacement of worn-out and torn equipment and supplies used for physical education classes and extra-curricular athletic offerings.
What has the district done to hold down costs?
The ongoing financial challenges facing the district has intensified BH-BL’s cost-saving efforts. Staff, board members and volunteers manage to find new ways to reduce, combine, reconfigure, reprioritize and simply do without. Along with delivering mostly budget-neutral student opportunities, the budget proposal also includes these other effective cost-saving measures:
- Health Insurance. A $200,000 savings is being realized within the budget thanks to a number of employees within the district’s three bargaining units—teachers, administrators and support staff—as well as some retirees who voluntarily chose one of the district’s less expensive health insurance options.
- Natural Gas. The district buys natural gas directly from the producer as part of a BOCES-run consortium of 140 school districts. This results in a
- Retired Debt Service. Next year, some of the district’s debt will have been paid off, resulting in nearly $171,000 in savings.
- Cooperative Services. The purchase of cooperative services through BOCES, such as risk management/Haz-Com, communications, some data processing and some special education services, is significantly less expensive than hiring people outright, particularly since the district is reimbursed for a portion of the costs through state aid.
- Transportation. BH-BL is part of a three-district consortium that buys diesel fuel and gasoline as a group. This enables the district to get prices slightly below state contract for an annual savings of at least $15,000. Additionally, the implementation of full-day kindergarten has allowed the district to reduce the number of mid-day bus runs. As a result, the transportation department has been able to use approximately 3,100 fewer gallons of gas (as of March), reduce the number of kindergarten out-of-district placements by 93 percent, and reduce the wear and tear on buses by driving them 19 fewer hours daily.
The GEA and how it’s affecting BH-BL
School districts around the state are heading into their fifth straight year of a Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which will result in a loss in funds of nearly $1.5 million for BH-BL in the coming year. The GEA was first introduced in 2010 by then-Governor Paterson as a way to help close New York’s budget deficit. Under the legislation, a portion of the funding shortfall at the state level is divided among all school districts throughout the state by subtracting it from a district’s state-established Foundation Aid.
In the early 2000s, prior to the GEA, a landmark court ruling resulting from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit required the state to restructure its school aid formula to make it equitable among districts. The revamped aid formula determined the amount of aid a district should receive based on geographic needs. This became known as Foundation Aid. Unfortunately, the GEA actually draws funding away from the state-mandated Foundation Aid.
“BH-BL is being denied aid that the state is required by law to provide for our students,” says Superintendent Patrick McGrath. Since first introduced, the total GEA reductions in school aid for BH-BL amounts to nearly $12 million. Its impact on the school district’s budget has been significant, resulting in a shifting of the tax burden to the local taxpayers over the past few years to help offset the impact of the withheld state aid.
The BH-BL Board of Education has been advocating for the removal of the GEA. This year the board adopted a resolution and met with individual lawmakers to explain the serious impact the GEA has had on the BH-BL budget. To get involved in these advocacy efforts, please visit the budget section on the district’s website or contact the board at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are there other items on the May 20 ballot?
In addition to the 2014- 15 budget proposition, voters will be asked to consider two other separate propositions, as well as elect three candidates to the Board of Education
Purchase property adjacent to the high school Residents will be asked to vote on a proposition that allows the district to use $148,000 of previously approved renovations referendum funds to purchase property and an accompanying dwelling at 834 Route 50 in Burnt Hills. Using existing funds within the voter-approved referendum project means the purchase of this property carries no tax impact. Furthermore, nearly 74 percent of the cost of the property may be reimbursed to the district through state aid. School officials explain the scope of the renovation projects will not change and could result in some cost savings. The nearly 1.5 acres of property is located behind the high school athletic fields where the equipment storage building will be installed as part of the renovations referendum. The additional land would make delivery, maintenance, and emergency vehicle access easier and safer. It would also allow the district to maintain a majority of the green space (e.g., trees, bushes), thus offering more privacy from Route 50. In addition, the property has an existing driveway off of Route 50, which would become the primary roadway for construction vehicles accessing the high school work site during renovations.
Having a separate work site roadway will minimize construction-related traffic at the high school entrances on Kingsley and Lakehill Roads; help reduce the wear and tear to the high school parking lots and fields; keep classroom disruptions to a minimum; and keep construction vehicles away from students and staff. There is also a small, structurally stable house located on the property that also has functioning utilities(e.g., water, electric, gas, sanitation). It would be used as the temporary construction field office for architects and engineers throughout the renovation project. In doing this, the need and associated expense to run utility lines to the high school work site are eliminated. “The potential savings from state aid coupled with the savings realized by using existing features on the property will likely offset the cost of the land,” says Superintendent Patrick McGrath. “We always try to capitalize on win-win situations that result in the district being able to accomplish more without spending more.”
Proposition #3: School bus replacement plan
The board is also asking residents to vote on a proposition authorizing the use of up to $450,000 to replace five of the district’s oldest buses. The vehicles to be purchased next year are three 66-passenger buses, a 29-passenger bus and one wheelchair-accessible bus. Instead of incurring additional debt, this purchase will be included in the 2014-15 budget. If approved, the district would be reimbursed approximately 66 percent, or $297,000, through state transportation aid. BH-BL’s 74-bus fleet travels more than 870,000 miles a year transporting nearly 3,200 students to and from its fi e schools. The buses are also used for sporting events, out-of-district 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 a few of the oldest buses each year. The five buses being replaced are 12 years old and have already accumulated high mileage. Beyond certain limits, buses typically become too costly to maintain given the state’s stringent inspection codes. In fact, the NYS Department of Transportation recommends districts replace small buses every five to seven years and large buses every 10 years. On average, BH-BL retires buses that are between 11 and 12 years old and likely would not pass inspection without investing a significant amount of money for repairs. The retired buses will be traded in to reduce the purchase price of the new buses.