Taxing Tuesday

The school budget vote is now five weeks away. For all those districts struggling to show their voters the impact of what is being cut from schools to stay under a tax levy spending cap, here’s a strategy from Bethlehem schools in the Capital District.

Click on this link and you will go to a list of budget reductions for next year.

If you can’t get to the link, it’s a list of items broken down into what they cost . Some things are no-brainers in tough budget times, like getting rid of non-mandatory safety meetings and reducing internal auditing days. Gone will be centralized stops for buses and Bethlehem will now follow the state mandate for the private school busing they will provide.

But also gone are librarians, art, music and physical education teachers, core academic teachers at the middle and high schools  (that means class sizes will go up), guidance counselors, custodians and administrators: 58 jobs in all, including .6 of the Chinese language teacher. Here’s the link to  an Albany Times Union blog post drawing correlations between cuts to that suburban district and the city district of Albany. (To my reading, it seems to make light of 58 job cuts in Bethlehem and also misleads readers into believing Bethlehem will keep Chinese language instruction. Bethlehem phases out the Chinese language instruction and only keeps it for those secondary students who have years invested in the language. Also note that the Albany city school district, so far, has not cut its Mandarin Chinese language program.)

Items #63 through #76 are what the school board decided to save when it agreed to exceed its tax cap of 2.94 percent and put forward a budget with a 3.99 percent increase. It’s basically middle and high school jobs. On its website, the suburban school board notes voters have agreed to nearly 5 percent increases for the past decade. To get items #63-#76, 60 percent of Bethlehem’s voters must vote yes on the budget.

If even a fraction under 60 percent do not vote to approve the budget, then the board district only has one more chance to secure passage. So the district is showing the community what will happen because, if the budget is voted down twice, the board must adopt a 0 percent increase budget. The district’s website notes that a 0 percent increase would result in approximately $6 million in reductions and eliminations in the budget. Clubs would suffer additional reductions and sports would be gone. The district would save a lot in transportation too because late buses would be eliminated. Why would kids be staying at school with no clubs or sports? Elementary students could either get art, music, physical education and library every other week, or they could be eliminated.

Not a pretty picture.

These cuts in Bethlehem are on top of last year’s painful closing of the Clarksville Elementary School. You might recall the Bethlehem TA, led by Dave Rounds, was behind a touching solidarity event last year where the union set aside an empty seat in their auditorium in honor of the job cuts in their region. Here’s a link to coverage of that event.

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