Budget: $62,730,265 (1182 yes votes to 456 no votes )
Tax Rate Increase: 1.76%
Tax Levy Increase: 2.68%
Budget-to-Budget Increase: 2.44%
On May 19, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District residents will go to the polls to vote on a proposed $62.7 million budget for the 2015-16 school year. The plan carries a 2.68 percent tax levy increase and an estimated 1.76 percent tax rate increase.
The proposed budget maintains current class sizes and includes improvements that allow the district to enhance learning opportunities
and programs while staying below the district’s state tax levy cap. This is the result of the development of a conservative budget that includes retirement savings and mostly budget-neutral changes based on shifts in enrollment and realignment of programs to better meet student needs.
All of these efforts, combined with ongoing consortium savings, are allowing the board of education to put forth a budget that upholds
its responsibility and commitment to students and taxpayers.
“Although we are proposing mostly cost- neutral changes for next school year, that doesn’t mean we aren’t moving forward on districtwide academic initiatives,” says Superintendent Patrick McGrath.
“We reprioritized our needs and realigned our use of available resources to develop a more efficient delivery of student programs,which also opens the door to implement new educational opportunities.”
Reprioritizing includes reducing overtime work districtwide and keeping building budgets at their current levels. Additionally, various positions were reorganized to allow for the creation of a new elementary program for students with special needs, the implementation of small learning communities at the middle school and the growth of districtwide instructional technology support.
The budget proposal calls for an overall spending increase of 3.76 percent—which includes a general budget spending increase of 2.44 percent and a capital spending increase of 1.32 percent. The capital expense increase is due entirely to the transfer of $800,000 from the Hostetter flood insurance settlement to fund upcoming debt service associated with the voter-approved October 2013 Renovations Referendum. This transfer will have no impact
State aid impact
State aid estimates for BH-BL were on the lower end of what was proposed for districts across the state. However, the minimal boost in state Foundation Aid ($47,000) and partial restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment
($540,000) that BH-BL is scheduled to receive are steps in the right direction.
“Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake is considered by the state to be a ‘Low-Need’ district based on .data from the early 2000s. This is despite the fact that current data shows that our property wealth and income wealth per student fall below many other districts that are considered ‘Average-Need’,” says McGrath. “As long as the state considers us ‘Low-Need’ we will continue
to receive minimal increases in state aid.”
McGrath encourages residents to ask legislators to revisit BH-BL’s ‘Low-Need’ aid categorization as well as continue advocating for an end to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which continues to withhold nearly $1 million of state aid from BH-BL each year.
What will be different in the 2015-16 school year?
The proposed budget includes mostly budget-neutral improvements that represent the district’s commitment to offering quality programs and services. Nearly all of the proposals are driven by shifts in enrollment, retirements, and a more efficient delivery of student services.
- Creation of a Beginnings Program at Stevens Elementary School. The district will create a full-day, self-contained program designed for elementary students with disabilities who require significant communication, academic and social supports. This program allows BH-BL to bring external services back in-house and keep students in their home school among their peers. Part-time teacher positions will be combined to support a cost- neutral, full-time special education teacher to run this program.
- O’Rourke Middle School schedule changes. The middle school’s grade 7 and 8 schedule will be reconfigured to allow for small learning communities, or academic teams, for these grades. A team structure is one in which a group of teachers in a given grade level is responsible for a common group of students—which is similar to the middle school’s current sixth-grade model. Research shows that teaming models enable better collaboration between teachers, parents, and students for academic and organizational purposes. Teams can also provide a more supportive environment for students as they transition from the single-classroom model of early elementary school to the independence of high school. This program adjustment was accomplished by shifting existing teaching positions. More information about teaming will be shared with parents and students this summer and this fall at Back- to-School Night.
- Administrative changes. School leaders were able to restructure administrative staff based on the retirement of the K-12 Supervisor for Career & Technical Education. In place of this position, a K-12 Supervisor of Science & Technology will be hired. Though cost-neutral, this new position allows for the reorganization of administrative responsibilities to better reflect changing academic and program needs as construction of the new STEAM addition to the high school begins next year.
- Reduction in total number of teaching assistants. Due to shifts in enrollment, changes in special education needs, and a more efficient use of available resources and services, the number of teaching assistant positions has been reduced and better aligned to student needs. The reduction will be accomplished mostly through attrition.
- Increased instructional technology (IT) support. The district will be finishing the two-year project of restructuring its IT Department by shifting existing technology support from BOCES to in-house positions. This allows BH-BL to increase the amount of staff time spent on instructional support, data privacy and student information systems with no additional cost. With the anticipated influx of nearly $2 million in technology hardware through the state’s SmartSchools Bond initiative, it is crucial that BH-BL have a well-organized plan for IT integration, data management, and instructional support.
- Restructure transportation department positions. Leadership of the transportation department will be restructured following a retirement. Additionally, using VersaTrans bus routing software, the district was able to generate more efficient routes, leading to the consolidation of two bus runs and increased sharing of routes with neighboring districts.
Are there other items on the May 19 ballot?
In addition to the 2015-16 budget proposition, voters will be asked to consider two other separate propositions, as well as elect two candidates to the Board
Proposition #2: School bus replacement plan
The board is asking residents to vote on a proposition authorizing the use of up to $510,000 to replace some of the district’s oldest buses. The vehicles to be purchased next year are three 66-passenger buses, one 29-passenger wheelchair-accessible bus and one mid-sized wheelchair-accessible bus. Instead of incurring additional debt, this purchase will be included in the 2015-16 budget. If approved, the district would
be reimbursed approximately 66 percent, or $336,600, through state
transportation aid. BH-BL’s 67-bus fleet travels more than 870,000 miles a year, transporting more than 3,000 students to and from its five 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.
Proposition #3: Add a student member position to the board of education
The board is asking residents to vote on a proposition authorizing
the addition of an ex officio student member position on the board of
education. A student board member will attend board meetings, sit at the
board table and participate in public discussions. However, as an ex officio member, the student will not vote and will not attend confidential executive sessions. “Student perspective has always been important to the board of
education,” says longtime board member John Blowers. “This school year we’ve had a regular student presence at our board meetings in an informal capacity, and the input has been invaluable to our decision-making process. Having formal student representation at the board level further demonstrates our commitment to being student centered,” he adds. To be eligible to run for the board position, students must be high school seniors and have been in the district for at least two years. They must also be members of the high school’s Student Government Organization (SGO). If approved, the board will work with school administrators and the high school principal tp define the procedures for appointing an eligible student.
Board of education elections
Also at the polls on May 19, residents may elect two members to the board of education. There are two incumbents, James Maughan and Jennifer Bradt, running unopposed. School board positions are unpaid and members serve a
three-year term of office typically beginning in July.
What’s meant by budget-to-budget increases? Why separate the operating & referendum budgets?
When presenting a budget, school leaders generally reference the district’s budget-to-budget increase as a way to show how much the school budget would increase from the current year to the upcoming school year. However, the proposed budget increase of 3.76 percent or $2.27 million can be better explained in two parts—general, or operating, budget expenses and capital budget expenses associated with the voter- approved October 2013 Renovations Referendum.
The 2015-16 proposal carries an operating budget increase of 2.44 percent, which is driven by traditional expenses required to run a district. This includes expenses that support curriculum, special education, transportation, salaries and benefits, etc.
The budget increase associated with the Renovations Referendum of 1.32 percent is directly tied to the board transferring $800,000 from reserves, which is similar to a savings account, to fund a portion of the Renovations Referendum.
When the referendum was proposed to voters in 2013, the board promised to use funds from the 2009 Hostetter (District Office) Building flood insurance settlement it set aside in a reserve in order to keep the local cost of the renovations project to a 1 percent tax levy increase. To honor that promise, the board plans to use $2.7 million from the Hostetter flood reserves and other sources for the next several years to fund the renovation work. The 2015-16 proposed budget includes the first transfer of funds from the settlement reserve.
“Essentially, the transfer of $800,000 from the district’s reserves is represented on both the revenue side and the expense side of the proposed budget,” explains Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Christopher Abdoo. “Doing this reflects a higher than usual increase in our overall budget, but the $800,000 increase is supported solely from the Hostetter flood insurance settlement. This particular increase does not impact the overall
Next school year is also the first year that the overall estimated 1 percent tax levy increase for the Renovations Referendum begins to take effect. The proposed 2015-16 tax levy increase of 2.68 percent includes a portion of the 1 percent increase associated with the Renovations Referendum. The 1 percent increase will be phased in over the next several years as the project progresses and more debt is accrued.
Impact of new real estate development
When new construction occurs within district boundaries in the form of residential and commercial development, BH-BL’s tax base increases. Continued growth in the tax base allows a district’s tax rate increase to be lower than the overall tax levy increase—as has been the case in BH-BL for the past few years. 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. The chart on the left shows the impact of a growing tax base over the past three school years and next year’s projected tax levy increase and estimated average tax rate increase. “As the tax base grows, the tax levy increase gets spread out among more taxpayers, thus possibly resulting in a lower overall tax rate increase,” explains Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Christopher Abdoo.