By Kim Siebert MacPhail
Recapping how the FY14 School budget has evolved over the last few months, School Committee Chairman Anne Bickford led those assembled at the February 12 School Committee meeting through a progression from the initial request in November for a budget increase of 5.86% ($34,709,554)—compared to the Finance Committee’s guideline of 2.15%—to a 4.71% increase ($34,331,451) after cuts were made at the end of January.
At last week’s Finance Committee (FinCom) meeting on February 7, the Schools made the case that the 4.71% ($828,074) increase over FinCom’s guideline was necessary and, although FinCom members generally agreed that there were no easy or obvious places to cut, they voted for a portion of the requested increase—$600,000 above their guideline—leaving a gap of $228,074 between the two committees’ positions.
To read about the discussion that led to FinCom’s decision to approve $600,000, visit: https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2013/02/12/schools-request-886235-over-guideline-fincom-oks-600000/
How this gap would be addressed was the School Committee’s acknowledged challenge during the portion of the February 12 meeting devoted to budget deliberations. Superintendent of Schools Jon Sills suggested several options that ultimately decreased the gap to $121,231.
Sills’ cuts included:
- $60,000 in transitional student transportation costs, which are federally mandated through the McKinney-Vento act of 1987. The State now reimburses towns for these costs, but the payment is received a year after the costs have been incurred. Sills made the recommendation to eliminate this amount from the School budget because the money will be returned, even though delayed by a year. When it does, the reimbursement goes, not to the Schools, but to the Town. It should be noted that while $60,000 was budgeted, the true cost—and subsequent reimbursement—is expected to be in the $180,000 range.
- $3,434 in earmarked funds for early retirement/sick leave buy-back payments.
- $9,448 in salary costs due to the known retirement of a veteran employee who will be replaced by someone entering at a lower salary step.
- $14,000 from a previously unanticipated tuition payment from a student from China who will be the first to attend Bedford High through the Educatius International program that places tuition-paying foreign students in US schools.
- $30,000 in School Committee reserves. Sills calculates that the level of staff changes in FY14 will not overly tax the reserve fund and so is willing to take the risk that the fund can be reduced by this amount.
Together, these cuts amount to $116,882 which, when subtracted from the current difference between the School Committee’s recommended budget and FinCom’s recommended budget, leaves a difference of $121,231.
After a unanimous vote to approve the FY14 budget total of $34,214,568—an increase of 4.35% over FY13—the School Committee requested time on this Thursday’s (February 14) Finance Committee agenda in hope that, with another round of discussions, the two committees will reach agreement.