At the Baldwin Board of Education’s community input meeting recently, a group of middle school girls performed a cheery musical selection from their upcoming production of “The Little Mermaid Jr.” At a Bruins wrestling registration event in late January, BHS class of 1992 alumnus Chris Weidmann — now a rising mixed martial arts star — signed autographs and talked with recruits. As parents and residents filed into a hastily arranged budget work session in the school district office on Hastings Street on Jan. 30, they admired the commemorations of academic achievement on display.
The vote by the school board at Hastings that windy night — to present Baldwin with a budget containing a 7 percent tax levy increase — was, in a way, about those singers, wrestlers and budding geniuses. Because, according to school officials, if the community doesn’t approve their proposal, the district’s arts, music, extracurricular activities and sports will be significantly reduced.
“The school system is the heart of the Baldwin community,” said Superintendent Dr. James Mapes, who will retire in June (see story at right). “If we cut the schools, Baldwin will suffer. The community needs a chance to vote. Do you want to keep what we have, or do you want us to build a school system around these cuts?”
Mapes made his comments before board trustees voted on the percentage by which their budget proposal will exceed New York state’s tax levy increase cap. Baldwin will vote on the budget on May 21, and more than 60 percent of voters will have to approve any increase of more than 3.14 percent. (Baldwin’s last two budgets were approved by more than two-thirds of district voters.)
A series of school board meetings, budget work sessions and other gatherings dating back to last school year have made it clear that the board has been planning an assault on the tax cap for some time. (The Baldwin Education Assembly’s budget advisory committee recommended piercing the cap in December.) The issue resolved on Jan. 30 was how aggressive the board will be in asking for a tax levy increase for 2013-14.