On May 16, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District residents approved a $65.4 million budget for the 2017-18 school year. The plan results in a 1.96 percent tax levy increase, which is below the maximum allowable levy limit and carries an estimated 1.58 percent tax rate increase.
Overall spending in the proposed budget will increase by 2.48 percent, or $1.58 million.
“With this budget, the board continues its commitment to provide quality programs and opportunities. This is in keeping with BH-BL’s tradition of academic excellence,” says Superintendent Patrick McGrath. “And, in this tax cap era, the board has consistently presented budgets that are below the tax cap. This, coupled with increased growth in our district, has allowed the board to keep the average tax rate increase low.”
In addition to maintaining academic programs, the 2017-18 budget also preserves low class sizes in grades K-6 by adding two kindergarten sections to address the increase in next year’s kindergarten enrollment.
“This is a budget-neutral addition,” explains Assistant Superintendent Maryellen Symer. “By taking this school year’s retirements into consideration, we were able to reallocate staff assignments to address the shift in students’ needs for next school year.”
Also realized in this spending plan is the district’s continued commitment to educational technology through the expansion of the Chromebook laptop initiative to include the high school. All students in grades 3 through 12 will have a Chromebook assigned to them to use throughout the coming school year. Students use the Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education in their classes, for homework and research, to collaborate on projects, and to share work with teachers.
At the high school, computer science offerings have been added and plans are underway to participate in a Capital Region BOCES distance learning network. Through this network, and with the use of streaming technology, several existing BH-BL high school courses could be made available to students in other schools throughout the state. Distance learning courses also will bring new opportunities to BH-BL students. For instance, there are plans to add a Mandarin Chinese elective to the course offerings, which would be taught at BH-BL but offered through the network. And, because the network is supported through BOCES, 65 percent of the cost associated with distance learning courses is reimbursed through state aid.
Several of these budget additions were also possible because of a reduction in employer contribution rates (teacher and support staff state retirement systems), which resulted in a savings of nearly $500,000.
Team teaching, or teaming as it’s commonly known in education circles, is not a new concept at O’Rourke Middle School. It’s a model that has been practiced in sixth grade for several years, and one that staff and administrators have been working to implement schoolwide.
“It’s been a long-term goal of ours to fully align our school with this best practices model,” says Middle School Principal Colleen Wolff. “Teaming opens the door for improved school-to-home communication, allows for longer blocks of instructional time with flexible schedules, and enriches interdisciplinary teaching.”
Under the schoolwide teaming model, students in grades 7 and 8 will now be assigned to a group of core teachers (math, science, social studies, English, technology, and art) who, together, will form a small school community.
The general goal of teaming is to provide a more personalized learning experience for students. The small school communities created through teaming can help make the transition smoother for students as they move from their small, neighborhood elementary schools to the middle school.
With the teaming model, the student-teacher relationship also becomes more individualized through frequent communication. Students’ challenges and strengths are better understood and addressed so the students can receive the support they need to succeed.
At O’Rourke, teaming will also support a flexible schedule that allows for more instructional time by extending blocks of time in core subjects, as needed. Team teachers will be able to arrange their classes into varying amounts of time. For instance, they can teach 60- or 80-minute blocks rather than the traditional 40-minute blocks. Flexible scheduling also reduces the time needed to switch between classes and can provide for a less rushed school day.
Also with teaming, teachers will plan lessons and projects collaboratively to foster interdisciplinary teaching. Doing this ensures that core subject curriculum is supported throughout other subject areas and that students can experience STEAM-based classroom activities.
“We are excited to implement a schoolwide model that fosters greater collaboration among teachers, creates a stronger sense of community and belonging among students, and supports an environment that encourages academic achievement,” adds Wolff.