The School Committee this week voted to begin the process of terminating its relationship with Bedford-based EDCO Collaborative.
Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad reported that there are two students participating in EDCO programs and several educators in professional development and courses. The ultimate dissolution of the agency could cost Bedford between $100,000 and $500,000, he said.
Cyndy Taymore, EDCO interim executive director, confirmed Friday that her board “voted to initiate dissolution on Feb. 10,” due to “insurmountable financial barriers.”
EDCO, with facilities at 36 Middlesex Turnpike, is a collaborative of 16 school districts in the west and northwest suburbs, from Brookline, Newton, and Watertown out to Sudbury and Acton-Boxborough.
“For 50 years EDCO has served primarily as a professional development organization, offering a wide range of professional learning opportunities for educators in its member districts,” Taymore described – “networking and collaboration opportunities, diverse courses covering such topics as multicultural education, the inclusion of students with disabilities, ways to address the academic achievement gap, engaging students through remote education and much more.”
“EDCO also provides special education and alternative education programs for students with disabilities and at-risk youth, and services paid for through a variety of state and federally funded programs,” she added.
The collaborative’s financial problems have concerned many of the member school districts for several months. As early as May, the Acton-Boxborough School Committee was reviewing a summary from EDCO that estimated closing costs at almost $6.6 million.
At a Bedford School Committee meeting on May 26, then-Superintendent of Schools Jon Sills reported that EDCO had to reduce staff in response to budget deficiencies. He said Lexington, Belmont, and Concord had already decided to terminate their agreements. This week Conrad said the Acton-Boxborough district also has voted to withdraw.
The dissolution of the collaborative must be voted by all participating districts’ school committees as well as by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. That won’t happen until all students are placed elsewhere, Sills said in May.
“The move toward dissolution is the result of myriad complex factors, including increasingly challenging financial conditions brought on by the growing costs of maintaining our operations, as well as decreased enrollment in professional development and academic programming,” Taymore said. “Steps have been taken to reduce costs, such as running at reduced staffing levels, but this has simply not been enough. The pandemic, while by no means the catalyst for EDCO’s financial hardship, has created additional challenges that ultimately cannot be overcome.”
At Tuesday’s meeting of the School Committee, Conrad said that “this would be the first time that a collaborative folded that was not able to pay its debts.” The debts are “programmatic,” he said, but there is also a lease that continues to 2029. The collaborative is based in a 41,500-square-foot building near the Bedford Glen Hotel with an assessed valuation of about $4.3 million.
“We don’t know how and when the costs would become due and what the responsibility will be of the individual districts,” Conrad said. On a proportional basis, he said, Bedford would be accountable for 5.74 percent. He estimated that could translate to between $100,000 and $500,000.
Taymore confirmed that “upon the dissolution of EDCO, districts have been informed, as per the governing documents of the organization, that any outstanding debts will pass proportionally to each member district, as well as former member districts.”
She added, “There are a number of issues that must first be fully understood and resolved before the final cost of dissolving the collaborative can be determined.”
Conrad said he has discussed the financial implications with Town Manager Sarah Stanton and the chair of the Finance Committee, Ben Thomas.
EDCO Collaborative began in 1969 as a private consortium of public schools. “EDCO’s mission has been consistent throughout its history, focusing on the power of inter-district and inter-agency collaboration to meet the needs of underserved and at-risk students and adults,” the website reports.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763