An investment in quality programming
Proposal balances costs with expanded opportunities, results in estimated 1.95% tax rate increase
On May 21, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District residents will go to the polls to vote on a proposed $69.55 million budget for the 2019-20 school year. The proposal carries a 2.90 percent tax levy increase and results in an estimated 1.95 percent tax rate increase.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 21, at BH-BL High School.
Voters will also be asked to elect two candidates to the Board of Education and consider a proposition to continue the district’s practice to include an ex officio student member on the board.
The proposed budget preserves all current academic programs, includes expanded opportunities for students, and realizes cost savings through retirements and reallocation of staff responsibilities. The spending plan, which remains below the district’s tax levy cap of 3.76 percent for the seventh year in a row, also supports the district’s commitment to improve instructional technology districtwide and create 21st-century learning spaces.
“As outlined in the district’s 21st-century Frameworks for Learning guiding principles, we remain committed to offering engaging and personal educational experiences while providing our students and staff with the tools they need to learn and teach in today’s technology-driven world,” explains Superintendent Patrick McGrath.
State aid forecast
BH-BL is slated to receive an overall state foundation aid increase of $101,045 or 0.75 percent, which is the lowest increase the state provided to any school district for 2019-20. In fact, for the past few years the district’s foundation aid increase has steadily declined and has not kept pace with the rate of inflation.
“A delicate balance of budget-neutral additions and planned use of fund balance over the past several years has allowed the board to adhere to its promise to deliver high-quality programming and services while remaining below the tax cap,” says Superintendent McGrath. “However, when developing our long-range financial plan it’s imperative we take into consideration the trends in our state aid because it is unlikely we will be able to continue to balance budgets this way.”
The 2019-20 budget proposal, therefore, includes efforts aimed at generating additional revenue. One way is to continue expanding Distance Learning (DL) courses offered through the high school. The state reimburses the district for the costs associated with teaching DL courses. Another initiative is to broaden the district’s food service department through Spartan Catering and opening a Spartan Cafe. (See page 2 for details.)
“As the percentage of the district’s budget supported by foundation aid decreases, we must be open to other revenue sources,” says McGrath. “Ideas we’ve discussed are sharing our courses with other schools, developing a potential alumni funding partnership, and encouraging strategic, targeted economic growth of our tax base.”
What’s included in the 2019-20 proposed budget?
Expanded Math Academic Intervention Services to K-2
Academic Intervention Services (AIS) in math is currently offered to students in grades 3-5, but will be increased next school year to include grades K-2. The small group setting and instructional support will focus on helping students develop better math competency and improve their foundation skills, both of which are essential to learn higher level math concepts and become strong problem solvers and critical thinkers. As an example, students learn about money in the early elementary grades and then add to that math knowledge when they learn about percentages and fractions in later grades. “Students need to have a solid understanding of basic mathematical concepts before they can build upon these skills in later grades,” explains K-12 Math Supervisor Bill McQuay.
Expanded Distance Learning
Next year’s budget further broadens the district’s distance learning opportunities by continuing to participate in the BOCES Distance Learning Network. “Distance learning allows us to leverage technology to bring students from other districts across our region into our classrooms,” says McGrath. “When we do this, we receive additional aid to support the cost of the course. This is a win-win for us. It allows our students to take classes with students from other places, increases opportunities for students, and provides a revenue source for our district.”
Addition of Grade 2 Keyboarding Instruction
The new state standards in English language arts include keyboarding instruction at the elementary level. During the second half of the school year a high school business teacher will go to the elementary schools to provide formal keyboarding instruction to second-grade students. This includes lessons and practice of fundamental keyboarding skills that are necessary to operate a keyboard smoothly while typing. “Typing is a muscle-memory activity and when learned properly it becomes secondary to the task students are trying to accomplish,” explains K-12 Business Supervisor Stephanie Andrejcak. Keyboarding is also an essential lifelong skill. As part of the district’s 1:1 Technology Initiative, students in grades 3-12 are assigned a Chromebook laptop they are expected to use during school for class work and projects. “We provide our students with technology tools so it’s important that we also teach them how to properly use them,” adds Andrejcak.
New Mandarin Chinese in Grade 7
Mandarin Chinese, which is currently offered as an enrichment course in grade 6, will be added as a world language course option in seventh grade. And because Mandarin is already taught at the high school, middle school students will now be able to bridge their language studies to earn course credits to fulfill their world language graduation requirement. “Mandarin has become the second most popular dual-language education program in the United States,” explains Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Maryellen Symer. “Adding Mandarin Chinese to our world language program supports our goal to prepare students for college and careers in a globalized world.”
Broadened Food Service Department
This proposal includes extending Spartan Catering to include service for in-house athletic banquets, club/organization gatherings, take-out dinners, district meetings, workshops, etc. Also in the works is opening a Spartan Cafe at the high school. On select days the cafeteria would be open after school and early evening to sell snack bar food.
Upgraded Safety & Security
Within the past several years, there have been many changes to the schools’ physical safety and security measures. Next year’s budget proposal includes upgrades to these measures, including additional digital surveillance cameras throughout the district and the continuation of a single-point of entry at the elementary schools during after-school and early evening hours.
Upgrades to 21st-century Classrooms
The proposal supports the board’s goal to continue modernizing classrooms to create 21st-century workspaces. Next school year, 45 classrooms will receive improvements to the infrastructure in order to support today’s instructional technology, such as high-definition projectors, cameras, and touch screen monitors and tablets that students can use to interact with the screen from their desk.
Technology & Lighting Upgrades & Savings
Included in the budget is a commitment to use Category Two E-rate Funding along with BOCES aid to purchase local area network equipment ($227,690) needed to upgrade the technology infrastructure at all three elementary schools. And because e-rate funding and BOCES aid will be used for this improvement project there will be little to no net impact on local funds. The project also includes $25,000 per elementary school for cabling associated with the infrastructure upgrades. Also included is funding ($100,000) for a capital outlay project for renovations that include upgrading to more energy efficient (LED) lighting in the Stevens gymnasium.