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Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District


Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposal to slash foundation aid in 2025 is sending districts across the state into a panic. This week, NYSUT President Melinda Person visited Berne-Knox-Westerlo Central School District, to meet with members and learn what the cuts would mean for their students.

At Berne-Knox-Westerlo (BKW), a small rural district at the western edge of Albany County that serves 684 students, the governor’s proposal would result in a $624,179 budget shortfall. District members said the reduction would set the district back 15 years and undo all the progress that’s been made in the classrooms during that time.

New York State Assemblymember Chris Tague joined the visit and declared his opposition to the cuts. “I do support the efforts of NYSUT and Dr. Mundell and I will continue to do so. I am a perfect example of what public education can do,” Tague said.

To rebalance the BKW budget, the district would have to eliminate 12-15 teaching positions, increase elementary class sizes, and threaten the special education program – which has demonstrated sturdy growth in recent years due to increased investment. The cuts would also eliminate the district’s only afterschool program, end summer programs and reduce counseling services and CTE offerings.

“For 16 years, the “Save Harmless” has been in place, and to pull the rug out without any forewarning is punitive. It’s Draconian and it’s mean.”

~ Timothy Mundell, Berne-Knox-Westerlo Superintendent

The budget would also imperil co-taught classrooms and could eliminate support staff members. Brenda Dibble, President of the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Teacher Support Staff said her 25 teaching assistants and aides are pushing into every elementary classroom, and that’s played a critical role in improving district test scores. “That’s how our kids are growing,” Dibble said. “The growth is huge and impressive, and it would be a loss if we don’t have that.”

Hochul’s proposal is based on false assumptions, Mundell said, including the fallacy that declining school enrollment significantly reduces district costs.

Person told him she is always trying to explain this fiscal reality to policy makers. “The simplest explanation I usually give them is that if you have a class with 25 kids and you reduce that to 22 kids, how much money do you actually save?” she asked.

Losing a few kids from each class doesn’t help with fixed costs, like electricity, heating oil and fuel, Mundell said. “We drive 633,000 miles per year on our buses. Whether we have 1 kid or 25 kids who need to go to an out of district placement, it’s 40 miles there and back. One bus, that’s $40,000 a year.”

According to Mundell, the governor’s proposal also assumes that districts are sitting on a bunch of money. In fact, costs are increasing astronomically year over year, and districts continue to face new state mandates, like the requirement that all schools transition to electric buses by 2035.

The governor’s proposal also assumes that an increase in the Combined Wealth Ratio (CWR) means districts can turn to taxpayers to make up the shortfall, Mundell said.

Combined Wealth Ratio (CWR) is a measure of relative wealth, indexing each school district against the statewide average based on property wealth and income wealth per pupil. But, Mundell points out, in his community, and other communities like his, property values are up, but household incomes are stagnant. Inflation hit residents hard, and consumer pricing still hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Mundell said BKW would have to hike school taxes by 12 percent to offset the aid loss in his district, which state law prohibits.

“That’s how our kids are growing, the growth is huge and impressive, and it would be a loss if we don’t have that (foundation aid).”

~ Brenda Dibble, kindergarten teacher, President of the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Teacher Support Staff

Fortunately, the governor’s proposed budget may not have the support it needs to pass.

During her visit, Person told Mundell and BKW educators that the proposal is being opposed by legislators on both sides of the aisle. “One thing that Republicans and Democrats can agree on is that great public schools are important,” she said. “We’re going to do everything in our power to fix this.”

Words | Molly Belmont
Images | El-Wise Noisette

Albany Public School Funding
Albany Public School Funding
Albany Public School Funding
Albany Public School Funding
Albany Public School Funding
Albany Public School Funding
Albany Public School Funding
Albany Public School Funding