At the January 23 meeting of the Finance Committee, Superintendent Jon Sills presented the School Committee’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021. Sills was accompanied by all five members of the School Committee.
The proposed budget included a total $43,308,918 request, a 3.5% rise from FY 2020, representing a $1,464,553 increase. Sills stressed that this increase is consistent with the ongoing trend in annual budgets.
Of the estimated increase, 2.4% accounts for an estimated $1,002,996, deemed necessary by the School Committee to properly account for six looming objectives: enrollment, in-district special education, social-emotional support services, supporting all students, program improvements, and maintenance.
In addition to those requests, the School Committee is asking for a $450,000 reserve fund transfer for extraordinary out-of-district costs. This fund transfer accounts for the remaining 1.1% increase.
Special Education Costs
FinCom focused its attention mainly on the increases to in-district special education costs. These expenses often are costly. Sills stressed the need for this important programming since the needs of special education students can vary and the schools must account for their needs.
It has been an objective of Bedford Public Schools to decrease the amount of out-of-district tuition by students who require special education programming. In 2009, 10 years ago, Bedford Public Schools supported the tuition for 93 students, but after improving in-house capabilities, this number has decreased greatly. In 2019, 44 students attended programming outside of Bedford Public Schools.
In the meantime, costs for out-of-district tuition have risen, but these costs are less likely to affect future budgets as the district moves to include more special education students in-house.
To help alleviate the burden of these costs, Sills explained he is hoping that the Circuit Breaker Application will continue to help reduce costs. This state funding is meant to help offset tuition costs; however, this funding must go to benefitting special education costs.
The increase in the number of students who are choosing to attend school within Bedford has in turn increased the need for special education teachers. Because of this, the proposed budget calls for hiring a board-certified behavior analyst, a special education teacher, and five behavior tech teacher’s assistants. Although these costs are additions to the current costs, they ultimately help decrease out-of-district costs and benefit the students who are enrolled.
The rise of enrollment is an annual cost driver. For FY 2021, there is a projected increase of 44 students. Due to this projected increase, there is a need to hire an additional Teaching Assistant at Lane to help reduce third-grade class sizes. Currently, third-grade classes are larger than the preferred 24-student class size set by the School Committee.
Social & Emotional Support Services
As prioritizing the mental health of students is an ongoing objective of the school district, the budget accounts for increased costs to extend social and emotional support services. Superintendent Sills reinforced plans to fund for social and emotional support services through the use of data collected from September to December of 2019.
The proposed budget includes hiring an additional School Counselor for the High School’s Lighthouse program, which supports students returning from hospitalizations for either mental health-related illnesses or medical and concussion conditions. The addition of this counselor will also benefit students not affiliated with Lighthouse, as it will help alleviate the high counselor-to-student ratio.
Support All Students
To help support students within the district, the proposed budget calls for hiring a reading interventionalist and math interventionalist teacher’s assistant at Davis. However, both of these positions can be fulfilled by a current employee of the school district. Additionally, with Title 1 offset costs, the addition of both positions comes at no cost to the schools and a minimal expense to the town.
Program Needs and Improvements
The proposed budget calls for four additional assistant principal summer days at Davis and Lane. Additionally, as the only department without a coordinator, there is a request in the budget to hire a Guidance Curriculum Coordinator at JGMS. The addition of this position will utilize an already-hired counselor.
Due to request and demand, the School Committee also asked to hire a JV Hockey Coach at the High School. However, the establishment of a JV Hockey team will include various other expenses including bus and ice rental, as well as hiring referees. These additional costs are accounted for as non-personnel needs and improvements. This proposal was met with mixed opinions from the Finance Committee.
The rest of the non-personnel needs and improvements include software, contract services, and professional development software.
Due to the addition at Davis, there is a need for a part-time custodian. This is reduced from an additional full-time custodian previously requested.
Close of Meeting
In total, personnel costs account for 86.7% of expansion requests while non-personnel costs account for 13.3%.
Many members of the Finance Committee thanked Superintendent Sills for his work over the past eight years, for his dedication to Bedford Public Schools, and more specifically to the Finance Committee, for his work on the proposed budget.
The School Committee’s proposed fiscal year 2021 budget will be debated and voted at Annual Town Meeting starting March 23.