The Bethlehem Area School District is “chipping away” at producing a balanced budget, according to a budget workshop presentation held at East Hills Middle School on Wednesday night.
The district has been able to trim off $2.1 million off the $8.1 million deficit that was approved on February 11th’s $224 million preliminary budget. The reductions were made in 17 different areas, according to Business Manager Stacy Gober. However the district still has to find another $1.4 million in cuts to close the budget hole just to keep a proposed 3.81 tax increase on homeowners in order. Most of the reductions, about $730,000, came as a result of retirements. The proposed budget does not cut any jobs.
Items pending to cut the gap further include additional retirements, staffing needs and enrollments, special education program changes, cyber charter school legislation and the district’s fund balance.
District Superintendent Joseph Roy said the top 2013-2014 preliminary budget “cost drivers” behind the budget shortfall and tax hike are salaries, PSERS, health care and charter school costs.
In Wednesday night’s presentation, Roy said BASD is looking to restore some academic support programs, which include allocating more than $420,000 for tutoring and after school programs, $150,000 for middle school library services, $100,000 for drop out prevention and more than $72,000 for community service, which requires students to perform 60-hours of community service to graduate from high school. It was that last item that garnered the support of board member Aurea Ortiz.
“Community service makes our students well-rounded, whole human beings,” she said.
This issue perplexed Vice President Michele Cann who said she didn’t “understand the idea of forced volunteerism.”
Directors Basilio Bonilla Jr., and Sundantha Vindange were absent Wednesday night.
The next budget workshop is scheduled for April 29th with tentative final budget adoption set for May 13th and final budget adoption on June 17th.