Saratoga County

Staff cuts possible in BH-BL budget planning

Staff cuts will be on the table for the next school year when the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School C

Staff cuts will be on the table for the next school year when the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School Central School District holds its second community budget forum Thursday.

Superintendent Jim Schultz is expected to make as many as nine recommendations for bridging a $2.2 million budget gap in the 2012-13 year.

Some are shots in the dark, like getting mandate relief from the state and netting more in state aid than the governor currently proposes. Others are likely to be unpopular but are more readily in the district’s control, such as cutting staff and programs for students.

And some options rely on the decisions of others, such as bargaining units making concessions and voters agreeing to raise taxes beyond the state-imposed 2 percent tax levy increase cap.

Other potential ideas include saving money as higher-paid staffers retire and are replaced with workers at the bottom of the pay scale, operating more efficiently, charging fees, receiving grants and using fund reserves.

“The piece that makes these discussions so difficult is that we’re looking at a fourth year of reductions,” Schultz said. In the last three years, the district has cut about 50 jobs.

District officials have requested a first-draft budget of $57 million, or $2.2 million more than the current year’s spending plan, to roll forward existing programs with no new staff and with freezes on many expenses. That represents a 4 percent budget increase, which would require a 6 percent tax levy increase, based on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s current school aid proposal.

To ease some of the deficit, Schultz plans to recommend that the board take $1 million out of a reserve fund for tax assessment challenges. The district has $1.9 million in that fund because it anticipated some legal challenges to tax assessments. Some of those cases have now been settled, and officials believe they don’t need to carry as much in the fund.

The forum where Schultz will discuss more specifics is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the O’Rourke Middle School cafeteria, 173 Lakehill Road. Or, people may tune in online at to watch the meeting and type in their comments and questions.

Schultz will introduce suggested cuts and additions in three tiers, so the public and the board can see what would need to be eliminated for various levels of tax increases or no tax increase, said district spokeswoman Christy Multer.

“One of the things that the forum is designed to uncover is what the community’s opinions are, what the community would like us to do,” Multer said. “Do we make some program changes, or do we raise taxes?”

District residents will divide into small groups after Schultz’ presentation to discuss what they would like to see happen and then report back to the Board of Education, Schultz said. “We can’t make everyone happy, but we certainly can listen to them and learn from them.”

The district also has slated a community budget forum for March 21. And the Board of Education’s finance committee also will meet in open session on Monday to discuss the budget.

The largest projected increase next school year is for staff health insurance and pension costs, expected to rise by $1.2 million, or 9.7 percent.

Debt payments will increase by $544,345 because of energy conservation renovations the voters approved in 2009. A boost in state building aid will cover much of that expense.

Staff salaries are projected to rise $321,008, or 1.1 percent.

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