Enrollment, Demographics and Mandates Drive FY14 School Budget; Finance Committee Finds Increase Request “Challenging”

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

After what was termed a “succession of lean budget years,” Bedford School Committee Chair Anne Bickford and Superintendent Jon Sills presented a budget plan to the Finance Committee (FinCom) last Thursday night that made a case for a 4.71% increase over the current year’s budget. The dollar amount of this increase is $1,544,249, which compares to the FinCom’s recommended increase guideline of 2.15% for all Town departments—or $706,175 in the schools’ case—leaving a delta of $838,074 between the two figures.

The current year’s (FY13) school budget increase was 3.38% over FY12, which saw a 0.79% decline over FY11. Both FY10 and FY11 saw increases in the low 3% range over the previous year’s budgets.

The breakdown of the projected 4.71% increase was explained in this manner:

  • Contractual obligations………………………………$825,605, a 2.52% increase
  • State and federal mandates……………………….$629,370, a 1.92% increase
  • Enrollment driven………………………………………$153,352, a 0.47% increase
  • Other………………………………………………………….$144,432, a 0.44% increase

Cuts were made in these areas:

  • Current program…………………………………………$98,220, a 30% decrease
  • In-house Special Education program…………$110,290, a 34% decrease

Additionally, the original budget proposal for FY14 projected a 5.86% increase which was reduced to a 4.71% increase by the School Committee after a line-by-line analysis.

Sills and Bickford identified the key drivers of the increase as federal and state mandates, changing demographics, and enrollment increases. To read the details behind these issues, view The Bedford Citizen’s previous article on the subject at: https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2012/12/12/preliminary-school-budget-shows-5-86-rise/

These factors—as well as the expansion of in-house Special Education programs that, this year alone, are projected to save $3,481,573 in out-of-district placements—result in the need for 11 additional full time staff equivalents (FTEs) across the system and an increase of $723,594 for new salaries  in FY14.

Following Sills and Bickford’s detailed presentation, Finance Committee members asked questions about the information that had been presented.

Ben Thomas wondered about enrollment projections for the future and whether the expected increases at the high school were taken into account when deciding staff increases now.

Superintendent Sills responded that, this year, he has put forth “modest requests for how to deal with [enrollment] pressures, knowing that we can only ask for so much.” Additionally, Sill said, it is hard to predict where the needs in the future would hit hardest, explaining: “That has to do with what courses students elect—and that changes based on the population—and the relationship between electives and core courses. We felt it would be premature to try to project and change what our request would be this time.”

Some hires, however, would anticipate broader, long-term needs, Bickford added. “The 0.6 [increase] in Guidance [for example] is reflective of this new, higher level of students.”

“Looking at your numbers,” Thomas replied, “it’s no surprise that you need more people. It’s a question, in my mind, of planning ahead.”

Other questions centered around such subjects as the elementary school iPad pilot program; the mandate to provide translation of all school documents to non-English speaking families; the number of students receiving Special Education services and out-of-district placement savings; what “full-time” means in terms of teaching hours; the proposal to make kindergarten five, instead of four, days a week; the requirements of adopting the Common Core standards; student enrollment bubbles that move up through the grades; and the take-home vehicles that are within the School portion of the Facilities department.

“Obviously you’re looking for more money than we’ve budgeted,” said FinCom member Tom Busa. “I think of years past—it’s probably not as large as it’s been in previous years at this stage of the game. One thing you need to do is find ways to steal from Peter to pay Paul. I know one thing that’s going to come up—that’s come up at prior Town Meetings and is going to come up again—is how we’re going to save money on replacing [Town] vehicles. This question of [take-home vehicles] is never going to go away. What are you doing, contract-wise, to fix this problem? Because, if we need to continue to replace vehicles as fast as we do, we’re not going to have the money [for other things].”

“We’re in discussion,” replied Bickford. “As you know, it’s the [Facilities Department] maintenance crews that serve both the Town and the Schools that have issues related to how they perform their jobs. We’re looking hard at that because we do have many occasions where we have people come at night, who come back and check [on the facilities.] And we don’t have, on the school side, a place where tools can be stored. . . .We’re in the process of working our way through that, but it needs to be something that works for both sides.”

“I find it very, very difficult to support a 4.7% increase,” said FinCom member Bob Kenney.

FinCom’s Thomas also struggled to accept the increase. “I have some thoughts that are mostly echoes of what Tom and Bob and some other people have said. The part I find most challenging is that any growth above overall budget growth means we have to reallocate from somewhere else. And in no particular order—and certainly not a complete list— the Town is looking at a new fire engine, more money for roads, more money for vehicles. . .there’s a challenge and I don’t know how to deal with that at the moment.”

Thomas closed by thanking Bickford, who will not seek re-election, for her service to Bedford during her tenure on the School Committee, adding “I honestly don’t know what I think about this yet,” he said, again referring to the Schools’ budget proposal. “Given the size of the increase and being the single-largest component of the Town’s budget, you have a disproportionate impact on everyone else’s budget.”

Bickford responded in kind, thanking Thomas for the recognition of her service, stating “We’re all in the same town. We wouldn’t have put forth these as needs, knowing where we are in the town’s finances, if they weren’t real—and they are very real. That’s where we are, and it is a challenge.”

To see the Power Point slides of Sills’ preliminary budget presentation to Fin Com on December 6, go to: https://www.bedford.k12.ma.us/images/stories/pdfs/sc/ss_presentation_files/bps%20budget%20request%20fy2014.pdf

Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: editor@thebedfordcitizen.org or 781-325-8606

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