Will Additional Covid Challenges Create a Shortfall in Bedford’s School Department Budget?

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It’s too soon to start speculating on a shortfall in Bedford’s fiscal 2021 education budget, the schools’ finance director told the School Committee in a memorandum this week.

However, Julie Kirrane acknowledged that there is a lengthy list of potential additional expenses in response to the continuing challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In her memo to the committee and superintendent of schools, Kirrane acknowledged that there are still “many unknowns about state funding or additional relief that may be available. Further, there may be some areas of savings in the fiscal 2021 budget, should a period of all-remote learning be required.”

“Until there are numbers that are more definitive for special education circuit-breaker, state impact aid, and a potential next CARES Act, an accurate projection of budgetary needs is not possible at this time,” she wrote.

Among the “currently identified school needs,” Kirrane listed teaching assistants comprising up to 20 full-time equivalent positions; up to 170 air purifiers; and long-term substitutes for staff eligible to take unpaid leaves of absence.

Other unfunded possibilities listed were strengthening some additional remote learning platform needs, consultation for special education, and professional development needs.

At Tuesday’s virtual committee meeting, Kirrane said school officials were aware in the spring that they would need to prepare fiscally for additional costs in 2020-21. She said this preparedness laid the groundwork for the increased costs that the current hybrid model represents. While the various factors continue to evolve, Kirrane noted that it is clear that operating under the hybrid model is indeed costly.

Outside Funding Has Offset Some Emergency Expenses

Kirrane explained some of the outside funding sources that have offset emergency expenses:

  • Bedford received $46,000 under the federal the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER Fund, part of the CARES Act. The money was used to hire a part-time reading interventionalist for students at Davis.
  • The district also received a grant a Municipal COVID Relief Act under the CARES Act 2, which provided $1,200,000 for the town and schools. However, Kirrane noted that most of this money was used for the food pantry, PPE, and other materials for in-person education, the purchase of student devices, and other expenses that do not help fund the identified unfunded needs.
  • The district also received a Technology Essentials grant, a competitive grant based on the community’s aggregate wealth. Bedford received $122,000, short of the $175,000 the district desired. This grant is helping fund the 1:1 model, which pairs every student with an electronic device.

Bedford schools recently applied for a grant worth $680,850, which represents an allocation of students’ enrollment. This grant money will be allocated directly to the reopening of schools

Kirrane assured the School Committee that her office and the rest of district leadership would continue to apply for various other grants.

Also, Superintendent Philip Conrad said the schools have received a donation from the Bedford Education Fund for $15,000 to purchase Lexia, an online English Language Arts platform. The fund has also donated $3,000 in Covid-19 support funds as well as $3,000 in unrestricted aid.

Conrad also expressed appreciation to citizens and private entities, including the Rotary Club of Bedford, for donations of personal protective equipment, bicycle helmets for students’ who may decide to ride their bikes to school, and other supplies for educators. The district also received a gift of science supplies from Beyond Benign, a Wilmington education company specializing in teaching green chemistry. Members of the School Committee echoed Conrad’s gratitude.


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