The School Committee will present a three-pronged budget proposal for fiscal 2022 to the Finance Committee at a virtual meeting Thursday night.
The committee unanimously voted the following at its Tuesday meeting to recommend the following:
- A baseline budget of $43,360,038, a 3.8 percent increase over fiscal 2021, that reflects a continuation of the pre-pandemic operations. The proposal exceeds the Finance Committee’s 3.5 percent guideline by more than $127,000 and includes an additional 6.1 positions.
- Additional salaries and expenses of up to $1,444,957, including 17 additional teachers, to accommodate the return to school of all students while allowing for some continuing health and safety protocols. This has been labeled the “recovery” budget.
- Continuation of a current $450,000 supplement from the town to finance extraordinary out-of-district special education costs.
The recommendations were presented by Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad. They culminate several weeks of discussion of budget options. (So far, a worst-case-scenario version, which would maintain all pandemic protocols with all students returning, has not been addressed in detail.)
Conrad said the recovery budget adds 10 teachers in the elementary grades so classroom populations can be topped at 16 in Davis School and 18 in Lane School, to accommodate safe distancing. The plan also adds four teachers at the middle and high schools and two special educators, plus furniture and supplies for additional sections.
Conrad and Assistant Superintendent Tricia Clifford have pointed out that the smaller class sizes also support student’s academic, social, and emotional recovery.
“What I think would be the best move forward would be to ask for the baseline plus additional costs associated with the recovery budget and allow the town to figure out what mechanism makes sense for that difference, so that our budget doesn’t increase by 7.2 percent,” Conrad said. “It makes more sense for us to ask for the ‘up-to’ budget so we can have the flexibility to be proactive as we go into the school year, meeting the needs of our students, so we can be very clear that we would not come back a year from now and start at that 7.2 number.”
“We will have that conversation with FinCom. I feel strongly that the money is going to be there,” said committee Chair Dan Brosgol. “It’s not that we can’t afford it. It’s what do we think is the best use of our funds.”
Member JoAnn Santiago wondered, “How can we provide assurance to the town that we will be good stewards of the resources for which we are asking?” Conrad emphasized that the message needs to be “we will look to spend everything other than taxpayer money first, look to efficiencies wherever possible.” He added that the administration’s performance has earned that trust.
School Finance Director Julie Kirrane explained that “one of the reasons we recommended this bifurcated approach is because we are getting information about outside funding.” In this case, she stated, “the taxpayer dollars are the last dollars not the first.” She said she is confident that “the town won’t be on the hook for the entire ‘up-to’ budget.”
During the brief public hearing on the budget, as well as during public comments that opened the virtual meeting, several parents emphasized the need to retain a remote option- taught by Bedford teachers- regardless of the scenario in place in the fall. Remote learning is included in the budget versions; Conrad acknowledged that there are “conversations” with school officials in Acton, Concord, and Sudbury about possible collaboration.
The superintendent and committee members stressed that it is premature to discuss specifics of how school will look in September. “We are voting for the budget and not the logistics,” said member Sarah Scoville. In answer to a question from committee member Brad Morrison, the superintendent said, “We have begun to model what we think things will look like and are moving in that direction. We think we know some of the parts but we as yet don’t know all of the parts.”
He said he would investigate the need to add art, music, and physical education teachers under the “recovery” scenario, as suggested by member Ann Guay.
“We need to make sure we are doing well by our staff,” Brosgol emphasized, noting that teachers and others helped the town navigate the financial uncertainty by working without a pay increase this year.
“We have put so much thought into what this should look like going forward,” Guay said, adding her appreciation to parents who have been offering suggestions.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763
CORRECTION: The baseline proposal exceeds the Finance Committee’s 3.5 percent guideline by more than $127,000, not $2,700 as originally posted.