School Committee and Finance Committee Reach Accord on FY15 Budget

Editor’s Note: The gap between the School Committee’s FY15 budget request and the Finance Committee’s guideline was resolved late on the evening of Thursday, March 13. The accord was reached through thoughtful action by both committees, therefore coverage of both meetings is included in this story.

School Committee Action

by Elizabeth Hacala

The Bedford School Committee met on March 11 in a further attempt to close the $148K gap between the approved School Committee budget and the finance committee guideline.

Superintendent Sills recommended a number of cuts to proposed School Committee budget totaling just over $78K in hopes the finance committee would be able to find some other funds to resolve the remaining $70K in differences.

Superintendent Sills’ recommendations were to:

  • Reduce new English and Math teachers by 0.2
  • Reduce the additional High School ELL teacher by 0.1
  • Postpone 3 computers for John Glen Middle School
  • Postpone grades 6 and 7 textbook replacement for 1 year.
  • Eliminate the after school Bridge Program*
  • Reduce by 0.1 the Adjustment Councilor at Lane
  • Draw down offset accounts

The School Committee was concerned about the impact of the reductions on the students and the schools.  School Committee member Brad Hafer was concerned about the quality of candidates the district could attract for the English and Math positions if positions are reduced. School Committee member Michael McAlister (himself an educator) and Superintendent Sills indicated that it is not uncommon for teachers to begin in part-time positions and move to full time as needs changed or staff left.

Committee member Ann Guay was concerned that eliminating the Bridge program could encourage parents of special needs children to leave their children in out of district programs rather than integrating them into the district schools.  School Committee Chair Ed Pierce also asked if the Bridge program currently prevented student problems down the road and how much of the 3K savings would actually be realized. [The Bridge Program offers a range of services to support the child in all areas (academically, behaviorally, and socially) Source: Bedford Public Schools, Special Education, Process and Procedures, Revised 2012, p.35].

In response Superintendent Sills offered to replace the elimination of the Bridge program with a reduction in the professional development line.  He said that reduction could be made without compromising the town’s obligation to provide enough continuing education training to the teachers so they can be re-certified.

The Committee discussed what the impact would be to postpone the textbook purchase another year.  Superintendent Sills said that one of the books being used is currently out of print.  The teachers are having searching used book b sites and warehouses to find replacements for books that break.  The other textbook is a geography text and already out of date at six years of age.  He said he had consulted with the teaching teams and they felt they could manage with the current texts for one more year.

School Committee member Abbie Seibert was concerned if “We kicked the can down the road,” the result would be deeper and more painful cuts the following year.

In spite of the concerns each Committee member expressed, in the end they decided the cuts were an acceptable risk to attempt and broker a consensus with the Finance Committee prior to Annual Town Meeting.

Finance Committee Responds

by Meredith McCulloch

At the end of the Finance Committee’s March 13 meeting Superintendent Jon Sills and School Committee Chairman Ed Pierce outlined the $78,475 changes to their budget voted the previous Tuesday.  The cuts included small reductions in some staff positions, postponement of textbook purchases and a delay of new computer purchases. (See list above.)

In addition the School Committee would draw down available funds from three special accounts (the Mudge Fund, the athletic fund and the school rental fund.) The balance in the accounts on June 30 would be zero, except where the principle cannot be spent. In FY15 new funds would begin to be deposited.  “We’ve used everything that we think we have. We’ve used it all,” said Ed Peirce, chair of the School Committee. The fund’s principal is to be preserved. Sills added, “Our understanding of the will [that established The Mudge Fund is that the funds were not intended for the operating budget, but for enrichment.”

The Finance Committee proceeded to make changes in the budget model that would free up additional funds to bridge the gap. The amount for bus transportation for homeless was reduced by $25,000 based on the number of students being transported. “The number is trending down,” said Sills. Also, the snow budget was reduced by $29,315 with the understanding that there could be an adjustment at Special Town Meeting if needed. The final budget was approved at 35,656,554.

“It was great to have all the interested parties, arrive at an amicable solution to our financial budget, prior to the upcoming Town Meeting. Since our budget impacts all services, I commend all the interested parties with their concessions in an efforts to provide our businesses and residents the best service possible.” Said Stephen Steel of the Finance Committee

FinCom member Ben Thomas reflected, “This was the result of the combined efforts of all involved.  I wish to express my appreciation for the hard work, creativity, concessions and flexibility shown by everyone and which went into arriving at an agreement.”

School Committee chairman Pierce added, “I’m happy that the Finance Committee has been able to help meet the needs created by the enrollment spike and other needs of the schools.”

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