FinCom Calculates How to Pay Homeless Student Transportation Costs

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

At their October 17 meeting, the Finance Committee reviewed actual and projected tallies of the costs incurred by the Town to transport homeless students back to former school systems.

As a feature of the 1987 McKinney-Vento Act, homeless families have the option of sending their children to schools in the town where they are temporarily sheltered or they can choose to return students to the schools in towns from which they’ve been displaced. Host towns are responsible for arranging transportation for students that request it; the state then reimburses the host town the following year for most or all of the expense. Between the date the bill is due and the date reimbursement is received, however, towns are “out of pocket” for transportation expenses. Last August, after a year in which the homeless student population was far lower, Bedford received a $32,000 reimbursement from the state— about 98% of total cost.

At the FinCom meeting, Town Finance Director Victor Garofalo shared this and other information provided by School Finance Director David Coelho about recent homeless student transportation costs.When Coelho compiled the data, 45 homeless students were attending Bedford’s grades K-12 and the number of students transported back to their home schools was also 45. Parents transported an additional 12 students to former school districts at no expense to the town. In the month of September, Bedford’s transportation bill was $41,533; in October, it is projected to be $42,238 for a total of $85,131 so far this school year. If the average of these two amounts is extended through the school year, the annualized rate would equal $359,690.

FinCom member Stephen Steele— who acts as liaison to the School Committee— reported that a transportation cost-sharing agreement exists with the City of Boston and he believes the same agreement can be reached with other cities to which Bedford transports students. Steele said that the divvy of the partner town share can be “up to 50%”.

“I don’t know all the issues and I don’t know all the details,” Steele said. “There is a cost agreement with the City of Boston only, at this point, but we do have the right to negotiate with other communities and I think we should.”

However, Finance Director Garofalo explained that “even if we get money back from the other towns [and possibly don’t have to wait a year for the full reimbursement], we can’t take that money and apply it to expenses. It can only come in as revenue. Either way, we have to appropriate the expense for this. If there is a cost-sharing, it would come in as a local receipt and it will go to the Town [not to the Schools]. We can’t reduce [what we appropriate to pay the transportation bill] by 50%; the $350,000 is what we have to come up with. Whatever comes in as reimbursement would go to the Free Cash account. It has to go through the certification process [before it can be used.]”

“We still have to write checks for $350,000,” confirmed FinCom member Rich Bowen.

Because the Town’s Reserve Fund stands now at $451,000— and because keeping a cushion for other needs is thought to be prudent— FinCom voted to transfer $175,000 from budget surplus into the Reserve Fund to assure that there’s enough to cover bills for homeless student transportation. Michael McAllister of the School Committee and Garofalo both said they would look into cost sharing with other towns besides Boston; McAllister said he would see if the School Committee’s separate Reserve Fund can contribute, although he said the account was mainly for emergency student needs and normally didn’t maintain a high balance.

McAllister said he believes that $360,000 is the highest the transportation cost will get because the number of homeless students living in the Plaza hotel is declining. “I think you could see this number go down. A number of families are starting to be moved out. I don’t know how much it will go down but it certainly is not likely to go higher. The state has capped the number of families that will go into the Plaza. We’ve been assured that once families move out, the state won’t backfill will new families.”

“There are a lot of answers we don’t have yet,” said out-going FinCom member Meredith McCulloch. “Generally, I agree that we should be prepared to pay it on the Town side. The Town has to pay and the Town gets reimbursed.”


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jd
jd
8 years ago

$359,690,,,,,the 1987 McKinney-Vento Act in action. No guarantee the town re-coups this. This is usurious.

Charlie
Charlie
8 years ago

The state program of housing homeless in hotels for $82 per day and then paying ridiculous transportation costs is fiscal lunacy and completely unsustainable. The services the state offers residents of Massachusetts are far too expensive compared to the tax revenues the state receives. That is exactly why we have budget deficits every year. With Massachusetts’ out of control spending, we are backed into a corner of having to increase our already high tax rate to continue unsustainable programs such as housing homeless in hotels. Talk to your state reps and demand better, more fiscally responsible solutions.

xine
xine
8 years ago
Reply to  Charlie

The town program of providing services to the eldery for $173,874, then subsidizing transportation costs (BLT) is fiscal lunacy and completely unsustainable. The services the state offers residents of Massachusetts are far too expensive compared to the tax revenues the state receives. That is exactly why we have budget deficits every year. With Massachusetts’ out of control spending, we are backed into a corner of having to increase our already high tax rate to continue unsustainable programs such as paying for the elderly to have a “club house.” Talk to your state reps and demand better, more fiscally responsible solutions.

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