2017-18 School Budget

Budget: $65,492,019 (1,094 yes votes to 323 no votes)
Tax Rate increase: 1.58%
Tax Levy increase: 1.96%
Budget-to-Budget increase: 2.48%

Budget Information (newsletter)

On May 16, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District residents approved a $65.4 million budget for the 2017-18 school year. The plan results in a 1.96 percent tax levy increase, which is below the maximum allowable levy limit and carries an estimated 1.58 percent tax rate increase.

Overall spending in the proposed budget will increase by 2.48 percent, or $1.58 million.

“With this budget, the board continues its commitment to provide quality programs and opportunities. This is in keeping with BH-BL’s tradition of academic excellence,” says Superintendent Patrick McGrath. “And, in this tax cap era, the board has consistently presented budgets that are below the tax cap. This, coupled with increased growth in our district, has allowed the board to keep the average tax rate increase low.”

What’s in the budget?

In addition to maintaining academic programs, the 2017-18 budget also preserves low class sizes in grades K-6 by adding two kindergarten sections to address the increase in next year’s kindergarten enrollment.

“This is a budget-neutral addition,” explains Assistant Superintendent Maryellen Symer. “By taking this school year’s retirements into consideration, we were able to reallocate staff assignments to address the shift in students’ needs for next school year.”

Also realized in this spending plan is the district’s continued commitment to educational technology through the expansion of the Chromebook laptop initiative to include the high school. All students in grades 3 through 12 will have a Chromebook assigned to them to use throughout the coming school year. Students use the Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education in their classes, for homework and research, to collaborate on projects, and to share work with teachers.

At the high school, computer science offerings have been added and plans are underway to participate in a Capital Region BOCES distance learning network. Through this network, and with the use of streaming technology, several existing BH-BL high school courses could be made available to students in other schools throughout the state. Distance learning courses also will bring new opportunities to BH-BL students. For instance, there are plans to add a Mandarin Chinese elective to the course offerings, which would be taught at BH-BL but offered through the network. And, because the network is supported through BOCES, 65 percent of the cost associated with distance learning courses is reimbursed through state aid.

Cost saving

Several of these budget additions were also possible because of a reduction in employer contribution rates (teacher and support staff state retirement systems), which resulted in a savings of nearly $500,000.

Grades 7 & 8 to benefit from teaming, flexible schedules

Creating small communities within O’Rourke Middle School
Team teaching, or teaming as it’s commonly known in education circles, is not a new concept at O’Rourke Middle School. It’s a model that has been practiced in sixth grade for several years, and one that staff and administrators have been working to implement schoolwide.

“It’s been a long-term goal of ours to fully align our school with this best practices model,” says Middle School Principal Colleen Wolff. “Teaming opens the door for improved school-to-home communication, allows for longer blocks of instructional time with flexible schedules, and enriches interdisciplinary teaching.”

Under the schoolwide teaming model, students in grades 7 and 8 will now be assigned to a group of core teachers (math, science, social studies, English, technology, and art) who, together, will form a small school community.

Benefits of teaming

The general goal of teaming is to provide a more personalized learning experience for students. The small school communities created through teaming can help make the transition smoother for students as they move from their small, neighborhood elementary schools to the middle school.

With the teaming model, the student-teacher relationship also becomes more individualized through frequent communication. Students’ challenges and strengths are better understood and addressed so the students can receive the support they need to succeed.

At O’Rourke, teaming will also support a flexible schedule that allows for more instructional time by extending blocks of time in core subjects, as needed. Team teachers will be able to arrange their classes into varying amounts of time. For instance, they can teach 60- or 80-minute blocks rather than the traditional 40-minute blocks. Flexible scheduling also reduces the time needed to switch between classes and can provide for a less rushed school day.

Also with teaming, teachers will plan lessons and projects collaboratively to foster interdisciplinary teaching. Doing this ensures that core subject curriculum is supported throughout other subject areas and that students can experience STEAM-based classroom activities.

“We are excited to implement a schoolwide model that fosters greater collaboration among teachers, creates a stronger sense of community and belonging among students, and supports an environment that encourages academic achievement,” adds Wolff.

What happens if the proposed budget is defeated?

Does the tax “cap” law impact a contingent budget?
If the proposed budget were defeated, state law gives the Board of Education two options:

  • Resubmit the same or revised proposal for a revote or
  • Move directly to a contingent budget.

If voters defeat the proposal a second time, however, the board must adopt a contingent budget.

Rules more severe now

Under New York’s tax “cap” 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 $749,307. In doing this, the board may not be able to adhere to its goal of preserving student programs and services or staff. It would likely have to make a number of staff reductions across all schools, which would increase class sizes.

Adopting a contingent budget 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; nonessential maintenance; capital expenditures (except in emergencies); salary increases for non-instructional and non-unionized employees; and certain field trips and student supplies.

Also under contingency rules, the administrative component of the budget would be subject to certain restrictions. These requirements existed prior to the tax levy cap and remain in effect.

Are there any exemptions available to taxpayers?

Yes. Homeowners can receive property tax exemptions under the School Tax Relief (STAR) program. Under state law, STAR exemptions can now grow by only 2 percent per year.

The Basic STAR exemption is available on a homeowner’s primary residence for anyone who owns and lives in his/her own home and earns less than $500,000 a year.

The Enhanced STAR exemption is available on the primary residence of taxpayers age 65 and older with yearly incomes below $86,000.

Three 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.

In February 2017, 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 exemptions must have been filed with your town assessor’s office by March 1, 2017. Call your town assessor or visit your town’s website if you have questions about STAR or other exemptions.

How will the 2017-18 budget impact taxes?

The 2017-18 budget of $65,492,019 is 2.48 percent higher than the current year’s budget. Given the state aid BH-BL will receive and other revenue sources, the overall property tax levy will increase 1.96 percent in order to balance the proposed budget.

Equalization rates

Calculating tax rate increases is complicated by the fact that the BH-BL district is made up of parts of four towns—Glenville, Charlton, Ballston Lake, and Clifton Park.

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.

As the name implies, equalization rates are intended to spread the tax burden across the four towns as fairly as possible. The rates attempt to “equalize” or compensate for differing assessment practices, for the fact that one town’s assessments may be more recent than the other towns’, and for the fact that property values don’t change equally in all towns within the school district.

For instance, if ORPS determines that property values have risen more in one town than another in the past year, the tax increase in that town may be somewhat higher than the estimated 1.58 percent average for 2017-18, while the rate in another town may be lower than the average.

Equalization rates are typically not shared with school districts until August. Equalization rate differences tend to even out over several years, but they make it impossible to predict actual tax rate increases in each town.
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 office 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.

Is the district purchasing buses for next school year?

Yes, but there will not be a separate proposition for the purchase of buses since the district will not borrow funds to buy them this year. Instead of incurring debt, the proposed budget includes $750,000 for the planned purchase of four 66-passenger buses, three 29-passenger buses, and one wheelchair-accessible bus to replace some of the district’s oldest buses.

The district is also slated to be 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 $255,000. Additionally, by purchasing buses outright, the district saves an estimated $15,000 in interest and legal fees associated with borrowing funds.

The district’s retired buses are expected to be traded in to further reduce the purchase price of the new buses.

The buses scheduled to be replaced in the 2017-18 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.

According to state law, if a bus doesn’t pass inspection, it must be taken off the road until repairs are made. When this happens, the district has fewer buses to use for trips outside of the regular daily school runs, such as athletic team transportation, field trips, etc.

Bus replacement plan

BH-BL’s 68-bus fleet travels more than 700,000 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 a few of the oldest buses each year.

Was there another proposition on the ballot?

Yes. In addition to the first proposition (the 2017-18 school budget), residents were also asked to vote on a second proposition reauthorizing an ex officio student member position on the BH-BL Board of Education. This too was approved.

This proposition was first proposed and approved in May of 2015. For the past two years, a different high school student each school year has been appointed as an ex officio member. The students attended board meetings, sat at the board table, and contributed to public discussions. An ex officio student member does not vote and does not attend executive sessions. By law, residents must approve this proposition every two years.

“We feel it’s important to learn from our students and consider their perspective during our decision-making process,” says Board President Peter Sawyer. “For the past two years, the students’ input has been invaluable.”

Board of Education Candidates

At the polls on Tuesday, May 16, residents may also elect three members to the BH-BL Board of Education.

To learn more about the candidates, the district will conduct a Meet-the-Candidates Night on Wednesday, May 10 at 7 p.m. in the High School Library.

All residents are invited to pose questions and listen to the candidates discuss their views. If you can’t attend in person, the event will be streamed online.

*The statements were provided 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.

Peter Sawyer…

is seeking his second term on the board, where he is currently serving as president and a member of the board’s Strategic Partnerships Committee. He has been an on-and-off BH-BL resident for more than 30 years, and is a 1977 BH-BL graduate.

Peter holds a Ph.D. in social sciences from Syracuse University and is a Department Chair and Director of the Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement at Hudson Valley Community College. He also is a member of the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Rotary Club and the American Sociologist Association. In the past, he has served on several BH-BL committees. Peter lives in Burnt Hills and has two sons who graduated from BH-BL High School. See Peter’s position statement* below.

“As a graduate of the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central Schools and as someone with two children who have gone through our schools, I feel a deep commitment to the community and to the district. I believe we have outstanding schools with tremendous teachers, dedicated staff, excellent administrators, and a community that knows that character, integrity, hard work and education hold the keys to the future.

My ability to contribute to our schools is based on 30 years of working in higher education, in both administration and in teaching. Currently, I work as a Department Chair and Director of the Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement at Hudson Valley Community College, where I have been since 2001. I supervise faculty and lead a large department that teaches through interactive video, online, traditional and blended formats.

Since I have been on the board, I have been able to support initiatives to create better linkages to college courses and programs at local community 
colleges. I have initiated the development of significant metrics, beyond state testing, which can be used to gauge the success of our schools and inform our decision making.

I have pushed for the use of surveys to evaluate our practices and I have pushed for the strengthening of our partnerships in the community to give our students opportunities for growth and development in a variety of career fields.

I believe my experience over these past three years combined with my background in education put me in a unique position to support the leadership of our schools and to move the district forward. My commitment to our schools and to our community reflects my strong belief in civic engagement and in the Rotary motto ‘service above self.’”

John Blowers…

joined the board in 2006 and has twice served as both board president and vice president. He is a member of the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake class of 1983 and holds an MBA from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

John is the Senior Operations Director for the Boston-based management consulting firm Public Consulting Group, and is also the author of the novel Life on Tilt. He coaches CYO basketball and is a board member for Junior Achievement. John resides in Ballston Lake and has two children attending BH-BL High School and one child attending O’Rourke Middle School. See John’s position statement* below.

“During good times you find out how good a district is. During bad times you find out how great a district is.

The past several years have been challenging for public education. The Great Recession caused many districts to dramatically reduce staff and program. The ensuing recovery had barely started when NYS Education Department introduced the Regents Reform Agenda. While opinions vary about the appropriateness of these changes, the pace and inclusiveness of how these reforms were introduced are nearly universally criticized. This sequence of events has crippled many districts by depleting resources then introducing initiatives without the proper communication and support structures. BH-BL has been able to navigate these events more successfully than many districts by relentlessly asking ourselves the same question: “What is best for this district?” During the economic downturn, this took on the form of developing a long-range strategic financial plan to help us develop models to navigate the fiscal uncertainty. During the poorly executed reform roll out, this has taken on the form of partnering with educational influencers to correct course while reassuring the community during a period of uncertainty.

During my time on the board, I have endeavored to increase community involvement with understanding the challenges facing our district and developing solutions. I introduced online budget forums and simulcasting/archiving board meetings to increase transparency. I pushed for the creation of a board email account and advocated for the district’s Facebook presence. I led the board’s search efforts to identify our current superintendent and I have been part of a small team developing a long-term strategic plan focused on key district drivers to make our success more predictable and transparent. More recently, I co-chaired a committee to develop solutions to erase growing food service deficits, provided pro bono advisory services to the district’s HR & business office and led the efforts to appoint a student representative to the board.

I welcome the opportunity to continue to serve this community by exploring ways we can deliver quality education in the most responsible manner.”

Don Marshall…

is seeking his first term on the board. Don served as a teacher in the Peace Corps in Africa after graduating from Butler University. He also has a master’s in social work from Syracuse University and worked as an educator and therapist with at-risk adolescents and their families his entire professional career.

He recently retired after 29 years as Executive Director of The Charlton School. He and his late wife, Karen, have lived in the Burnt Hills for 30 years. Their three children are BH-BL graduates.

In the past, Don was involved in leadership roles within community youth sports programs and served on several school committees. He has also served on a statewide NFP Board of Trustees. See Don’s position statement* below.

“The BH-BL School District has a history of excellence in teaching, admin-istration, and development. This excellence is a result of a commitment to quality made by our community going back generations. My commitment as a potential school board member will be to build on this tradition of effort and excellence.

The effectiveness of any organization is first and foremost established on its financial integrity. Our school budgets must be affordable and sustainable. Reasonable cost containment is the hallmark of any successful organization. While at The Charlton School, I developed and worked with 29 annual budgets. Budgets reflect policy and exist for the purpose of programs. It is the fiduciary responsibility of the Board of Education to develop a budget that supports our educational programs, our staff and our facilities. It is clear that our district has traditionally done this. We must maintain and build on this tradition.

As an administrator at The Charlton School, I helped our staff to develop effective programs for a wide variety of students. I fully understand that staff, at all levels, are the heart of our schools. I also worked closely with a union. I successfully negotiated nine labor contracts with SEIU. The goal of these negotiations was to get a fair and affordable agreement, while maintaining our positive working relationships.

In today’s financial and political environment it is important to advocate for the policies and resources necessary for the development of our public schools. I spent many hours with our elected officials advocating for our schools. As a school board member, I will continue to do this.

Membership on the board carries with it huge responsibilities. If elected, I commit to listening to our stakeholders and to using my mind, my heart and my experience, as a teacher, a school administrator, a board member and a parent, to maintain and to improve our tradition of quality education and fiscal responsibility in our schools.”