Dr. Persing was referring to the spacious and mostly empty auditorium at Freedom High School, where Bethlehem School Directors met last night to discuss, of all things, energy savings as well as a tentative budget for next year.
Tentative Tax Hike Approved
Things heated up pretty quickly. A sharply divided Bethlehem School Board narrowly approved a tentative budget for next year, 5-3. If this budget becomes final in June, it means that Bethlehem homeowners will see a 6.17% property tax increase. Homeowners assessed at $60,000 would see a $154 tax increase. Directors Eugene C. McKeon, Irene Follweiler and President Loretta M. Leeson voted against the $207.2 million budget, but the five members voting yes argued they could continue to look for cuts. "It's just to move it along," said Director Rosario S. Amato. Director Judith A. Dexter was absent.
Jolene Vitalos, president of the Bethlehem Education Association, raised several concerns prior to the vote. She questioned why Directors would raise taxes to "stockpile" $2 million into the fund balance. District officials had previously argued that a larger fund balance means a better credit rating, but Vitalos countered that the real reason is to "allow the district to borrow more money to renovate its fourth middle school."
She also complained about the reduction in staff, noting that students returned to school last year with 46 less teachers and other professionals who could work directly with them. "Once again, a reduction of approximately 35 positions is proposed without any significant decrease in school enrollment," she noted, leading to class sizes "well above" the district's recommended guidelines.
Vitalos disputes that six administrators are being eliminated, noting she could only find two.
Board Selects Own Engineer to Develop Energy Savings Plan
Directors also agreed, 5-3, to select D'Huy Engineering to come up with an energy savings plan in the school district, nearly 5 months after rate caps were removed from PPL Solicitor Don Spry ruled that even though D'Huy is the District's engineer, there is no conflict in hiring that firm to come up with an energy savings plan. D'Huy, along with ten other companies
Lawrence Eighmy, an unsuccessful bidder with The Stone House Group, was highly critical of the Board's decision to hire D'Huy. "You will approve D'Huy to oversee their own work," he complained, adding that Directors should have addressed energy savings long ago. "It's a major part of your oversight. ... You had no one watching the shop."
President Loretta Leeson shook her head as Eighmy spoke, but said nothing.
Freedom Band Wonders if Liberty is Getting Preferential Treatment
Meg Selzer, VP of the Freedom HS Band Parent organization, told Directors that Freedom Band members who went to Disney World last year had to pay for the trip out of their own pockets. Their request for funding was rejected. Yet Liberty's band is slated to receive $7,450 for trips to Disney World and Waikiki in 2011. "In light of the budget problems that we are clearly going to have, I wonder why the Liberty band parent organization isn't being asked to pay for that," she said.
Leeson promised to get Selzer an answer.