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Programs may be budget casualties at Burnt Hills schools

Programs may be budget casualties at Burnt Hills schools

Bigger class sizes, some sports reductions, fewer students in vocational programs and no GED program

Bigger class sizes, some sports reductions, fewer students in vocational programs and no GED program are some of the cuts students in Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake schools could see next year, depending on how the next several weeks of budget deliberations go.

District officials are considering deep reductions to avoid an otherwise projected 10.84 percent tax increase.

If they kept the 2011-12 budget at $53.4 million, the same figure that the district approved for this year, spending still would have to increase by $2.1 million because the district is projected to lose $1.7 million in state aid, something all school districts face under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed state budget. Plus, the district faces contractual increases in salaries and benefits as well as more maintenance and transportation costs.

Superintendent Jim Schultz outlined at a budget forum Thursday evening three tiers of possible cuts at the school board’s request. He asked for public input on what people would like to see stay in the district’s budget and how big of a tax increase property owners could tolerate.

About 200 people attended the session, breaking into small groups after a presentation to consider the proposals. The next budget forum is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. March 29 at O’Rourke Middle School; people may also participate online at The budget will be nearly complete then, officials said.

The board is expected to adopt a budget April 12, and the public vote is scheduled for May 17.

Schultz talked about what district officials can do to ease the tax burden — and what they can’t.

“The question that comes up repeatedly in the forums is, ‘Why don’t you just freeze [all employees’ salaries]?’ Legally, I do not have the right to do that,” he said.

At the same time, officials want to protect educational programs.

Richard Evans, assistant superintendent for instruction, said the proposed teacher cuts would likely mean one to three more students in each class.

“It sounds minimal, but at the same time, when you reach the higher 20s it becomes challenging,” he said.

To make the program reductions easier, Schultz proposed spending half of the district’s nearly $4 million surplus next year, leaving it with a $2 million buffer in future years.

Spending cuts in the first tier would give property owners a 2.44 percent tax increase and add up to $54.7 million in spending. This plan includes cutting 15 full-time-equivalent jobs, many of them by increasing class sizes and reducing special education assistants and cleaning staff.

Program eliminations would include getting rid of junior varsity fall and winter cheerleading.

The tier-one proposal would add four employees: an energy manager who officials hope would save the district money, a literacy teacher, a special education teacher and a kindergarten teacher.

Second-tier proposals cut deeper, including eliminating remedial summer school for second through fifth grades, cutting 10 student spots from BOCES career and technical programs, dropping the GED program, cutting at least six more full-time positions and making children who live close to schools walk instead of riding the bus.

Making these cuts would spend $54.3 million and increase taxes 1.48 percent, officials said.

A third tier that yields no tax increase would cut out the proposed new hires outlined in the first tier, include all of the job cuts in the first two tiers, take away another cleaning person and cut out the ice hockey team.

That spending plan would be $54 million.

Next year would be the third in which the district has seen double-digit staff cuts.

This school year, the district eliminated 24 full-time-equivalent jobs, and in 2009-10, 16 such jobs were cut.

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