By Kim Siebert MacPhail
A preliminary forecast shows that the revised FY13 school budget of $32,787,202 could rise to $35,709,554 in FY14 if Town Meeting agrees in March, representing a $1.922M, or 5.86%, increase. Major drivers, according to a presentation made to the School Committee by Superintendent Jon Sills, are an unexpected population growth at the high school, an increasingly complex student body with diverse needs, and state and federal mandates.
Before Superintendent Sills’ presentation on November 27 and follow-up comments from the School Committee on December 4, Committee chair Anne Bickford explained the budget timeline, saying that this was the first of many steps toward Town Meeting.
“Mr. Sills will lay out for us tonight what he has come up with for the FY14 budget and then we will have two meetings in December—with a third possible—to continue the discussion, followed by January’s meetings and the recommendation from the Finance Committee. Then the Finance Committee will eventually make a recommendation to Town Meeting.”
Sills started the presentation by putting the preliminary budget request into context, saying that the last few years have been financially difficult: FY10 was a 3.38% increase over the previous year, FY11 was a 3.02% increase, FY12 was -0.79% decrease and FY13 was 3.38% increase.
“Much of the 5.86% increase has to do with addressing needs that have been building steadily that we’ve not been able to meet because of the need over the last few years to produce very lean budgets,” Sills said.
Baseline services that roll over from year to year represent the foundation of the budget, Sills explained. But “particular changes and challenges” have developed over the last several years that have now “come into higher relief.”
Unexpected Population Growth at Bedford High
While the number of students at the lower schools is expected to stay about the same, Bedford High School (BHS) has seen a dramatic jump in population. The new high school was built for 850 students; this year it has 851 with 900 expected in the coming years. This is the largest student body since1982-83.
Enrollment in 47 of BHS classes this year is over 25 students, with 7 classes over 30 students. Therefore, Sills requests two additional full-time equivalent staff (FTEs) at Bedford High, which translates to 0.4 for English; 0.8 for Social Studies; 0.2 for Foreign Language; and a 0.2 for Music.
[Note: At the high school, each 0.2 FTE teaches one course section.]
Overcrowding some classes with more than 25 students, Sills said, affects the quality of the learning experience for both students and teachers.
“If we look at our strategic plan, we are directed to provide student-centered learning for all of our students and that means that students do a tremendous amount of work—lots of essays, lots of projects,” Sills explained. “It’s not possible for a teacher with 122 students [for example] to give that kind of work on a regular basis—and sustain that, year to year—and be able to correct it in a timely fashion. We no longer doing scan-tron multiple-choice tests in Social Studies, and so this really impacts the ability to deliver the kind of education that we expect.”
Increasing Complexity/Diversity of Student Population
Since 2008, the English Language Learner (ELL) population in the Bedford Schools has more than doubled, from 40 to 95 students. The displaced or homeless student population in the Bedford schools has gone from zero to 33 students. [At the time that this presentation was made, an additional 33 displaced students temporarily housed in Bedford were also being transported daily to their original school system; Dr. Susan Rozen reported to the School Committee on December4 that more displaced students are expected to arrive this month.]
While the state moved to guarantee reimbursement costs for transportation of displaced students who choose to return to their original schools rather than attend Bedford Schools, the reimbursements are a year behind, even if they do survive state budget cuts. The cost that Bedford must cover for this year alone is projected to be $180,000.
Sills said that currently 60% of all ELL students are at the Davis School. Rozen stated that 25 languages are now represented within the overall ELL population.
For more about the ELL population and to read about Dr. Rozen’s presentation, see: https://thebedfordcitizen.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/english-language-leaner-program-addresses-bedfords-changing-demographics/ ]
In terms of staffing to meet the needs of this increasingly complex population, a 1.0 FTE at the Lane School to serve 31 English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students, a 1.2 FTE in counseling and in the skills center at the Middle School, and a 0.8 FTE guidance/adjustment counselor are needed specifically to support the academic, physical and emotional challenges presented by the changing population.
State and Federal Mandates
Besides the transportation of displaced students, which is a State mandate, adoption of the Common Core of Learning standards necessitate a move to full-time kindergarten from the current four-day-a-week schedule. This increase will require an additional 1.6 FTEs. Also, the State’s new teacher evaluation system—which makes it necessary for more in-depth staff supervision and evaluation—will mean another 1.3 FTE.
“We are a Race to the Top district so we are required to implement the new teacher evaluation standards this year,” Sills said. “Other districts in the Commonwealth [that are not early adopters of Race to the Top] have until next year to begin to implement it. What our administrators are finding—with such requirements as 10 observations a week—is that they just can’t do that and do their own jobs well. So we need to make that possible. . . .What we’re proposing is [that] the core program administrators have their teaching [loads] reduced by 0.2 [FTE] and that the program directors—art, music, phys[ical] ed[ucation] and health—have their teaching reduced by 0.1 [FTE].”
Additionally, a concerted effort to keep most Special Education students in-house rather than in out-of-district placements has fortunately brought avoided costs calculated at $2.9M for FY13 alone. However, since students that would have been educated elsewhere now remain in Bedford, more staff are needed here to serve the population.
Despite the 5.86% budget increase, Sills emphasized that there remain unmet needs that the budget does not address.
Discussions will continue throughout the next few months leading up to Annual Town Meeting.