Bedford Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad is recommending a 4 percent budget increase for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2023. The proposed budget totals $46,970,181, an increase of $1,813,891 over the current year’s $45,157,090.
The proposal, which was presented to the School Committee at its meeting on Tuesday, reflects an increase of 3 percent in what Conrad labels “maintenance of effort.” The additional percentage point for “additional needs” pushes the total over the Finance Committee’s 3.5 percent guideline.
Salaries grow by only 1.8 percent in the plan, primarily because of fewer teaching positions in the elementary schools – a reduction of five classrooms – in response to lower enrollment. That increase of $658,601 is augmented by $683,819 in additional operating expenses.
Out-of-district special education costs are budgeted at $3,222,999, an increase of $234,594, or 7.9 percent more than the current year. However, $150,000 of that increase is a reserve for unanticipated costs. For the past few years, this has been funded as a separate line item at much greater amounts.
Conrad’s budget also features $471,471 in “additional needs.” Those include $81,361 for restoration of the Lane School library teacher; a reserve teaching position for $55,955 in case of a surprise summer enrollment spike; and additional special-education positions for $149,458.
There are a few non-salary curricular and technology changes totaling $89,593.
School Committee members were pleased with the superintendent’s budget, which will be his last in Bedford. Conrad has announced he will be retiring at the end of the fiscal year.
The School Committee plans to review the budget line by line at its meetings on Jan. 10 and 17. On the following Tuesday, Jan. 24, the committee will host a statutory public hearing on the proposal before voting a final number and presenting it to the Finance Committee.
School Committee Chair Brad Morrison predicted that since the Finance Committee has been calling for an end to the special reserve for out-of-district tuition, “I think this is going to be very well received. I think that’s one of the headlines here.”
Another headline is the restoration of the Lane School library teacher. That position was deleted for the current academic year, following the retirement of librarian Linda Coviello. Former fifth-grade teacher Stacey Williams was named instructional coach, working with teachers on classroom opportunities for literacy skills, research skills, digital literacy, and digital citizenship.
Under the new configuration, during “library book exchange,” a library assistant helps students select books and take care of library displays.
After weeks of questions and concerns from some parents and School Committee members, Conrad restored the position while retaining the current personnel. Member Sheila Mehta-Green acknowledged the response, noting that “several of us on the committee had expressed concern.”
Member Ann Guay, who lauded the superintendent’s budget, pointed out that, unlike many area districts, Bedford does not charge fees for transportation or extracurricular activities. And her colleague Sarah Scoville reminded the group that Bedford continues to realize savings through in-house special-education programming.
Committee member Daniel Brosgol observed that “salary costs are absolutely under control. The cost of everything else is spiraling out of control, which is happening everywhere.”
He recalled kindergarten classes that surpassed 200 students, and said the recent decline is “amazing.” The budget projects 453 students in kindergarten and first and second grade next academic year. The current total for the three grades is 470. For the 2019-20 school year the total was 597.
The reduction in classrooms “comes at a human cost,” he noted, referring to positions lost.