Saratoga County

Burnt Hills residents take sides: Higher taxes or school cuts?

Educational goals and fiscal realities clashed at a Tuesday public forum on next year’s Burnt Hills-

Educational goals and fiscal realities clashed at a Tuesday public forum on next year’s Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central Schools budget.

While Superintendent Jim Schultz recommends a budget that cuts $861,000 in salaries and programs and raises taxes 2.4 percent, some residents think that hike is too high and others believe the cuts are too severe.

In the last of three public forums on the 2011-12 proposed budget, speakers took sides at one of two podiums, depending on whether they wanted to see the district spend more or less. Speakers who favored more spending slightly outnumbered those who advocated more cuts. About 250 people filled the auditorium at O’Rourke Middle School.

Schultz’ proposed budget is $54.6 million compared to this year’s $53.4 million, and it cuts 12.3 full-time-equivalent positions. They include five teachers, 5.5 support staffers and 1.8 administrators.

The newest spending plan also adds back three new teachers in other specialty areas.

Previous budget drafts cut more jobs than that, but the school board put some teacher positions back in after meeting with student government leaders, Schultz said.

But some residents want even fewer cuts.

One taxpayer suggested a 4 percent tax increase to avoid cutting staff and programs.

“I view our commitment to our children as a social contract,” said Catherine Snyder, whose daughter is a junior at the high school. “We have promised them that as a community, we will provide them with the best education possible.”

A few students spoke up as well.

“We need to raise taxes,” said Phil Metz, a senior at the high school, praising teachers for their dedication.

“It sets us up for higher-paying jobs in the future,” he said, adding that students who go on to be higher earners can give back more to their community. “It’s kind of like putting money in a savings account, if you would.”

But at least one speaker wanted a flat tax rate next year.

“Everybody should remember that the school district staff and the Board of Education works for us,” said longtime Ballston resident Carl J. Thurnau. He urged the board not to use $2 million in reserves next year, half of the district’s surplus.

And a few speakers criticized teachers and other staffers for taking pay increases under previously negotiated contracts.

Michael Hickey of Glenville said teachers who won’t take a pay freeze are forcing the layoffs of their colleagues.

“Either the remaining teachers and staff can’t figure out they are taxing themselves out of a job, or they just don’t care,” he said.

Schultz said in his presentation that teachers would make concessions by working more to offset the layoffs. The district is currently in negotiation with the teachers union for a new three-year contract.

For his part, Schultz has agreed to take a $5,000 pay cut next year, and the two assistant superintendents have agreed to concessions as well, one to a $3,000 pay cut and the other a pay freeze.

The board is expected to vote on a budget April 12.

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