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2012-13 Budget Frequently Asked Questions

 

FAQS: 2012-13 budget

You have questions. We have answers.

Click on any one of the questions below for the answer, or scroll through the questions one by one.

 

Q: If both spending and the tax levy are increasing, why are there so many cuts?

Q: Is the district planning to use any of its reserves, or fund balance, next year?

Q: Why isn't the district reducing more administrators instead of teachers?

Q: What else is on the ballot on May 15?

Q: What happens if the budget is defeated on May 15?

Q: What is the new statewide 2 percent property tax cap law and how does it work?

Q: How does the new "tax cap" law affect contingent budgets?

Q: Are absentee ballots available up until the day before the vote?

Q: Why does the district propose to purchase replacement buses every year?

Q: How much state aid is the district expecting next year?

Q: How did the district close the budget gap?

Q: What are the estimated tax rate increases for the two towns in the district, and why are they different?

Q: How many positions are being reduced for next year?

Q: How will the budget reductions affect students?

Q: Does the budget contain any “new spending,” or program additions?

Q: Does the budget maintain all athletic, extracurricular, music and drama programs?

Q: What is the district doing to control costs?

Q: Is the district selling its central offices?

 

Q: If both spending and the tax levy are increasing, why are there so many cuts?

A: Despite the overall spending increase, the board of education made $3.3 million in budget reductions from the initial budget in order to create a balanced budget for next year in the face of continued cost increases and decreases in state aid, and a dwindling fund balance.

When budget development started in January, the district faced a budget gap of more than $7.7 million if it were to roll over its existing budget to next year and maintained its current tax levy. Due in part to annual increases in the cost of doing business— e.g., contractual increases, rising healthcare and pension costs— the gap was also the result of continuing declines in state aid to the district.

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Q: Is the district planning to use any of its reserves, or fund balance, next year?

Yes. The district plans to use $1.75 million in fund balance in 2012-13. This is less than the current year, when it budgeted about $2.275 million in fund balance use. Given that fund balance is not a recurring revenue — once used, it is gone — district officials have spoken about the importance of maintaining reserves healthy enough to help it navigate the future difficult budget years that are anticipated. These future challenges include:

Continued cost pressures, especially in the areas of health insurance and pension contributions;

The loss of federal funding that has helped soften state aid reductions;

State aid increases that may be modest and will only come after the significant decreases of recent years; and

The potential for a property tax cap. 

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Q: Why isn't the district reducing more administrators instead of teachers?

A: Next year, the district will have 12 building administrators for 7 schools — a principal at each building, an assistant principal and house leader at BCMS and an assistant principal and two deans at BCHS.
The district eliminated the a Middle School dean two years ago, which leaves the student-administrator ratio in the district of about 409:1.

School administrators are responsible for everything from scheduling to discipline to parent meetings to hiring, supporting and evaluating faculty and staff. District officials decided it was in the best interests of students and the schools to maintain administrative positions.
The district is proposing to reduce positions in administration in other areas, such as 1.4 FTE reductions in Transportation and in Special Education.

Read more about administrators here.

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What else is on the ballot on May 15?

Voters will decide on the following ballot items:

The $88,203,000 school budget

A bus purchase referendum
(Six replacement buses at a cost not to exceed $660,000)

Board of Education Elections
(Two candidates are running for two seats)

Public library budget and trustees election
(Unrelated to the district)

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What happens if the budget is defeated on May 15?

A: If the proposed 2012-13 BCSD budget is voted down, the Board of Education has three options to consider:

Put the same budget before the voters a second time.

Put a revised budget before the voters with additional reductions.

Adopt a contingent budget with a total of $6 million in reductions.

If the proposed 2012-13 BCSD budget is voted down a second time, the district must operate on a contingent budget (read more about new rules for contingent budgets here.) What used to be a spending cap on contingent budgets is now a 0 percent cap on the tax levy increase. In other words, Bethlehem would have to levy the same amount of taxes as the in the current year, or less without any adjustments for state pension rate increases, contractual obligations or any other costs, mandated or not.

For Bethlehem, this would mean an additional $2.2 million in cuts or reductions, including:

Cutting additional teaching, support and administrative staff

The elimination of all athletics

The elimination of co-curricular activities

Reducing art, music and physical education in the elementary schools to every other week

Increasing walking distances for students to up to three miles

The elimination of late buses

Cutting five additional Special Education aides

Closing the Middle School pool

Elimination of the Challenge program

And many other potential reductions

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Q: What is the new statewide 2 percent property tax cap law and how does it work?

A: The tax levy limit law has been misrepresented as a “2 percent tax cap,” but the law does not restrict proposed tax levy increases to 2 percent. Instead, the law determines what level
of support is needed for a school budget to pass. [To read details about the tax levy limit law, click here.]

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What does this mean for BCSD?

Under the law, if the district had proposed a tax levy of $58.6 million, or a 2.94 percent increase, the budget would only need a simple majority to pass. After cutting $3.3 million in programming and services, the Board decided on a tax levy of $59.2 million, or a 3.99 percent increase, in order to preserve some programming. This tax levy requires the support of 60 percent of voters for budget passage.

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What will the new law mean for YOUR tax bill?

The new law applies to the tax levy, not to tax rates or to
individual tax bills. Also, there are several factors (assessments, STAR, equalization rates, etc.) that dictate how your school tax bill is calculated after the district sets the final tax levy; these factors are beyond the district’s control.

The Bethlehem Central School District has estimated tax increases in the proposed budget of $75 for a home in Bethlehem assessed at $100,000 and $12 for a home in New Scotland assessed at $100,000.
An estimated property tax calculator, which allows users
to include various exemptions, can be found here.

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Q: How does the tax cap law affect contingent budgets?

A: With New York’s new tax levy cap law in effect, the rules for contingent budgets have changed. What used to be cap on spending in contingent budgets is now a 0 percent cap on the tax levy increase. In other words, the Bethlehem Central School District would have to levy the same amount of taxes as in the current year or less—without any adjustments for state pension rate increases, contractual obligations or any other costs— and make even more reductions than the already proposed $3.3 million in cuts.

Adopting a contingent budget prohibits a district from spending any money in certain areas as prescribed by law. These would include community use of school facilities (unless all costs are reimbursed to the district), new equipment purchases, non-essential maintenance,
and capital expenditures (except in emergencies). These requirements existed prior to the tax levy cap and remain in effect.

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Q: Are absentee ballots available up until the day before the vote?

Yes. To vote by absentee ballot, you must fill out an application. Contact the district clerk at 439-7481 or download one from the district website, http://bethlehemschools.org

If you want a ballot mailed to you, your application must be received by May 8. If you plan to pick up your ballot, your application must be received by May 14. Completed absentee ballots must be received by the district clerk by 5 p.m. on May 15, the day of the vote.

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Q: Why does the district propose to purchase replacement buses every year?

A: In two words, safety and efficiency. The district has proposed replacing buses annually as the most effective way to maintain a safe and operational fleet and control the maintenance costs that come with keeping older buses on the road.

The law requires the district to get voter approval to borrow money for capital expenditures such as bus purchases. This year’s bus replacement purchase referendum will appear on the ballot as a separate question from the school budget.

The district is seeking approval to replace six large buses at a cost not to exceed $660,000. About a third of the cost of the new buses is reimbursed by the state.

The outcome of this year’s bus replacement referendum has no impact on the proposed budget. The buses would be purchased next year, and the debt service would be part of the district’s total debt load beginning the following year. The district is on a 5-year repayment schedule for bus purchases, so the total amount tends to stay fairly steady — as new debt is added, old debt is retired.

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Q: How much state aid is the district losing next year?

When it comes to state aid, the amount released in the Governor’s aid run and the amount of aid the district receives are almost always two different numbers. The amount we receive is usually less. Case in point, of the $22,954,000 in the state aid run released in March, we expect to receive $22,673,000.  It's important to note that over the past three years, the district has had to give back to the state $12 million in aid so that the state could balance its books.

See the chart below to see the downward trend in state aid over the past few years.

state aid trending

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Q: How did the district close the budget gap?

The district is proposing to close the $7.7 million budget gap by cutting $3.3 million in programming and services, using $1.75 million of their fund balance and increasing the tax levy by 3.99 percent. You can see a list of proposed reductions by clicking here.

The proposed staffing, program and service reductions, along with the use of the district’s unreserved fund balance, narrowed but did not entirely close the budget gap. Based on community input throughout the budget process, the board decided to propose a budget that exceeds its levy limit rather than make about $2.2 million more in cuts.

For a full list of potential cuts click here [PDF].  

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Q: What are the estimated tax rate increases for the two towns in the district, and why are they different?

The proposed budget carries the following estimated tax rates (per $1,000 of assessed property value) for each town:

2012-13 estimated rates

At this point in the process, tax rates and increases for next year are estimates only. The tax rates differ between the two towns because of equalization rates set by the New York State Office of Real Property Services. Equalization rates are established in an effort to make sure the tax levy is fairly distributed when one taxing entity (the district) spans multiple municipalities, which may use different assessment practices. The district will set final tax rates in August, after the towns finalize assessment figures and the state sets the equalization rates. The rates and estimated increases and decreases shown here DO NOT reflect any STAR or other tax exemptions that may reduce individuals’ school tax bills.

An estimated property tax calculator, which allows users
to include various exemptions, can be found here

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Q: How many positions are being reduced for next year?

A: The proposed 2012-13 budget eliminates 57.4 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions. A complete list of reductions can be found here [PDF] and includes the following:

1.4 FTE administration

22 FTE instructional positions, including:
• 2.2 FTE classroom teachers
• 1.0 special education Teacher
• 1.0 FTE reading Teacher
• 2.0 FTE special education teachers
• 1.0 FTE speech staff
• 1.0 FTE psychologist
• 1.2 FTE ESL staff consolidated in two buildings
• 1.5 FTE librarians districtwide
• 1.0 FTE BCHS phys ed staff
• 1.0 FTE world languages staff
• 0.8 FTE language teacher
• 0.5 FTE music staff – students will begin strings in 5th grade

34 FTE support staff, including:
• 25 FTE teachers aides

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Q: How will the budget reductions affect students?

 A: Throughout the months-long budgeting process the Board of Education was sensitive to the fact that cuts and reductions in the proposed budget would have a lasting impact on Bethlehem’s students.

“After two years of significant and painful reductions and consolidating operations and spending down fund balance as our state leaders have urged us to do– we didn’t have options remaining that are going to be considered ‘best’ by anyone,” said Board President Diane Giacone Stever. “The cuts we propose in this budget will change the educational experience the community has come to expect from Bethlehem, but we still believe that with the community’s support we can maintain the excellence we’ve become known for.”

The Board tried to cut or reduce in areas that would have the least effect on students, and reductions were spread out among all areas of the budget: administration, athletics, instruction, operations, special education, technology and transportation. But in order to keep costs in line, the Board is proposing cuts that will undoubtedly change the environment at Bethlehem schools.

“Not one of these reductions is ideal and all are offered with the knowledge that they will affect the operation of the district and the experience of its students,” said Douglas. “But the fact remains that we must resolve a staggering deficit in this budget while trying to maintain the quality of a Bethlehem education.”

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Q: Are our bus runs changing next year? How?

A: The proposed budget calls for centralized bus stops throughout the district, which may result in a change in walking distances to bus stops and longer drive times to school.

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Q: Does the budget contain any “new spending,” or program additions?

A: There are no program additions in the proposed 2012-13 budget. 

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Q: Does the budget maintain all athletic, extracurricular, music and drama programs?

A: Unfortunately, in order to overcome a staggering $7.7 million deficit, all areas of programming had to be examined for possible savings. The gymnastics team is listed as a proposed cut, and students will begin strings in 5th grade instead of 4th. Also, the proposed budget calls for a 20 percent reduction in middle and high school clubs (Asst. Dir. For Musical and Stage Creations, National Honors Society, and VJC Acting Troup).

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Q: What is the district doing to control costs?

A: In addition to the $3.3 million in reductions proposed in the 2012-13 budget [see the complete list here], the district also continues to scrutinize all purchases of equipment and supplies. These items are decreasing 1.62 percent in the proposed budget due in part to a freeze on the purchase of new equipment and vehicles, as well as a reduction in printing and supply spending.

The district also is part of an energy consortium, which leads to more competitive rates that it locks in for longer-term time periods. A focus on energy conservation and efficient building systems has helped the district avoid more than $1 million in energy costs over the last decade. Over the last two years, seven district schools have qualified for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy STAR designation, which is reserved for schools that perform in at least the top 25 percent of school buildings nationwide for energy efficiency.

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Q: Is the district selling its central offices? Where will the district offices be located?

A: The district is actively looking for a buyer for the offices at 90 Adams Place in order to streamline operations and reduce operating costs. The district offices will be located in the high school at 700 Delaware Ave.

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For more information:

Visit the 2012-13 Budget homepage