Andes School Board approves new budget

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By Matthew J. Perry
The Andes Central School Board of Education has approved a proposed budget for the coming school year that will contain administrative cuts along with increases for the program and capital budgets. In aggregate, the school expects a modest increase over this year’s expenditures. The tax levy for Andes residents will rise from 3.14 percent to 3.17 percent.
Superintendent John Bernhardt submitted an estimated $3,627,048 total budget for 2008-2009, an increase of $197,085 over the current year at the board’s meeting on Thursday. The rising cost of diesel and heating fuel were cited as the primary source of the hike. These costs were reflected in both the program and capital budgets, which are estimated to rise 15.02 percent to $380,266.
However, the increase was offset by a 3.58 percent cut in the administrative budget, thanks in part to Superintendent Bernhardt’s decision to remain in his position at a retiree’s pension rate. The money saved from this move is intended to fund the school’s emergency fund, and will amount to a $40,000 savings for taxpayers.
Bernhardt stated that fuel costs are difficult to estimate because the school can no longer purchase in bulk, at a savings of 30 to 40 cents a gallon, and thus lock in a rate. Bulk purchases require deliveries from large fuel trucks that cannot cross the school’s bridge. In the current school year, ACS has purchased 28,000 gallons of heating oil and 12,000 gallons of diesel for the bus fleet.
While noting that the tax levy increase is almost flat, board member John Hopkins noted that because of staff retirements, it might be difficult to repeat such good news for the district in coming years. Extra funds will be required to recruit replacements.
The board also braved stiff winds and dropping temperatures to view the school’s tennis courts, which are in desperate need of repair and situated at the southern end of the school property, behind Lower Main Street. Funds have been reserved to overhaul the courts, but before work can begin attention must be paid to a large stand of overhanging trees that drop sap and debris on the courts. The trees are packed densely and extend up a gentle slope behind the blacktop.
The school has consulted with tree experts and been presented with a variety of options. Branches could be cut up to a height of 25 feet or more, but some board members were concerned that this would not solve the problem. Consultants also offered to cut down various numbers of trees, ranging from the first two rows to the entire population. Each choice seemed to have its benefits; to clear-cut the slope, Bernhardt observed, would present ACS students with an on-site landscaping project.
Noting the extensive controversy that has arisen in Andes over the removal of other trees, the board expected that community debate over the school’s choice would be lively. The board planned to have other consultations and take more bids before reaching a decision.
Approval was given for the school to declare 11 computers as excess equipment, including three Apple iMacs, four Dell Optiplex and four Dell monitors. Bernhardt noted that many students had requested permission to take the computers for personal use, and suggested that ACS draw names, since requests have outnumbered supply.
After a short debate, approval was also given for a Night at the Casino theme for the ACS junior prom. The board was quick to reassure parents that no actual gambling would be taking place, although decorations could include a roulette wheel and craps table. Prizes will be awarded, but tender will be restricted to poker chips and Monopoly money.