Bethlehem voters to decide on $102.7M spending plan

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Voters in the Bethlehem school district will vote on a $102.7 million budget on May 17. Courtesy of Pexels

BETHLEHEM — Voters next month will determine the fate of a $102.7 million budget after the Bethlehem Board of Education adopted a tentative spending plan with no increase in the tax levy.

The budget for the 2022-23 school year was approved at the board’s April 6 meeting.

The spending plan will go before the voters on May 17.

The plan does not include any cuts to academic programs and does not include an increase in the tax levy, according to district officials.

The total budget is $102,698,000, which represents a $661,000 increase compared to the 2021-22 academic year. The board of education began working on the budget in February and focuses on the district’s four stated priorities — academics, character, community and wellness — according to the Bethlehem school district.

“We have been successful this year in providing safe in-person learning opportunities for all students while still navigating the uncertainty of the COVID pandemic,” District Superintendent Jody Monroe said. “Our students are incredibly resilient, but we can’t underestimate their needs as we look ahead.”

The budget includes additions to instructional programs that focus on improving student supports such as mental health by enhancing the district’s Coordinated Care Team. The budget includes the addition of a social worker at the middle school and another social worker for students and families in K-12.

There is also a provision in the budget for a full-time director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, who will work on creating and implementing these initiatives districtwide.

“The budget plan for next year would provide the necessary resources for keeping our students on track, keeping them engaged and for creating a school environment that is as supportive as possible,” Monroe said. “We are optimistic about what the coming school year will look like but what we have learned over the last two years is to be prepared for anything. This budget helps us in that preparation.”

The budget includes the loss of one full-time teaching position at the elementary school level. The decision to eliminate the position was based on changes in enrollment, according to the district. Class sizes at the elementary level will average 18 students per section, and at the secondary level, core courses will have 21-22 students per section on average, according to the district.

The budget also includes technology upgrades for the Chromebooks used by teachers, along with the planned replacement of Chromebooks every four years. In 2022-23, devices in grades 1, 5 and 9 will be replaced, and Chromebooks for kindergarten classes will be added. There will also be hardware upgrades and software to increase online privacy and security for students.

The district is expected to receive an additional $1,178,000 in state aid, and an increase of $1.5 million in Foundation aid, which will be partially offset by other forms of aid the district expects to receive from the state.

The increases to districts in Foundation Aid comes after three years of frozen aid levels from the 2009 to 2011 school years, and minimal increases after that, according to the district. The full restoration of state aid is expected to take three years.

When voters head to the polls May 17, they will also determine the fate of a bus proposition on the ballot that seeks to replace four school buses at a cost of $821,000. The purchase would include a 70-passenger electric bus and three 45-passenger diesel buses that are equipped for wheelchair use.

About 62% of the cost of the new buses is reimbursed by the state, so the final cost of the purchase for taxpayers would be $311,980.

The purchase of an electric bus reflects the district’s move to reducing carbon emissions, according to the district, and adds to the five electric buses purchased this academic year. There are five electric charging stations in place, and 25 additional stations are planned as part of the 2021 capital project, which is currently in the design phase.

Under the state’s current budget, school districts will be required to have a fully electric bus fleet by 2035.

Voters will also elect two members of the Bethlehem Board of Education. The two incumbents whose terms will expire in June — Jonathan Fishbein and Wendy Samson — have opted not to run for re-election. A Meet the Candidates Night is tentatively scheduled for May 11.

The budget, bus proposition and board of education vote will take place May 17 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in Gym A at Bethlehem Central High School. Absentee ballots are available. To request an absentee ballot contact District Clerk Brittany Barrett at bbarrett@bethlehemschools.org or by calling 518-429-7098.

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