A Message from Superintendent Jon Sills ~ Reductions to the FY21 School Budget

June 8, 2020

As you may be aware, the school department is required to reduce the FY21 budget that we originally created with the support of the School Committee, and which received the support of the Finance Committee back in January, by $1,278,000.  This is due to over $2,000,000 in reduced state and local revenues.

While we are not reducing below our FY20 budget number, we are significantly reducing what we originally proposed for FY21.  The $1,278,000 net reductions change our FY21 budget from a 3.5% increase over FY20 plus a $450,000 extra fund for what were extraordinary out-of-district special education costs, to a .4% increase plus the extra special education funds.  In looking at where to make these changes, we could not simply eliminate the new positions we had asked for, as these are needed to meet our special education/IEP ethical and legal obligations and anticipated increases in emotional and mental health needs.

Click this link to read the FY21 Budget Chart – Bedford School Department 06072020

Why Not Use Other Town Funds to Reduce the Schools’ “Deficit”?

My advocacy for the use of stabilization funds was met with an argument that I find no fault with and now strongly support:

  • For one, the FY21 budget is already drawing on $1,367,820 in unused levy capacity and $5,810,000 in Free Cash.  With one in five Bedford residents out of work, raising taxes is not an option.
  • As well, this is going to be at minimum a two-year problem, and likely a three-year problem, if past recessions are any indication.
  • Finally, we have no idea what the cost of doing school in the Covid-19 environment will actually be from an operating budget standpoint, and we may, once we know, need to draw further on those reserves in order to function.

Use of Supplemental Funds

We are presently drawing on CARES Act III and a state technology grant to purchase Purell dispensers for every classroom, swivel cameras for secondary classrooms, PPE, fogging machines and disinfectant supplies, remote learning program licenses, Chromebooks and hotspots, as well as iPads for kindergartners at home.  These funds may not be used for deficit reduction, however.

Painful

Making these reductions has been painful for all of us, but we know they will be most painful for the individuals who will be impacted, and to all educators, non-union personnel (principals, central office, computer technicians..) and union personnel for whom we are budgeting 0% COLAs for next year.  We are presently in negotiations with the Bedford Educators Association (the teachers’ union), so we have not yet arrived at a final resolution of this issue.  In proposing the reductions to the school committee, we are guided first and foremost by minimizing what will be an inevitable impact on students, and by protecting positions and minimizing the impact on adults.

Rationales- E.g., World Language Reduction

We have looked to supplies, professional development, personnel who do not have direct teaching responsibilities, and not filling open positions wherever possible to minimize the impact of budgetary constraints on teaching and learning.

Good education practice motivates other changes.   For example, the unanticipated loss of learning time this spring and the impending loss of learning time in the fall will necessitate greater reading instruction for next year’s third graders.  This is a critical point in student learning where schools need to close literacy gaps before they demonstrably widen.  For this reason, I am proposing a one-year elimination of third grade World Language to ensure this year’s second graders achieve learning targets necessary to be strong readers and successful students.  Whether this will need to be extended or not will depend upon how successful we are with this year’s first-graders who have also lost valuable reading instruction time.

Specifics and Restorations

Attached is what was presented at last week’s SC meeting.  There will be a follow-up meeting this week (date and time to be announced) to bring the discussion to closure and secure a vote on the final budget.  Please know that should funds be restored in the fall- either Chapter 70 or CARES Act IV or Circuit Breaker, we will move to restore reductions IF we do not need those moneys to render schooling effective.

DESE, Re-Opening and Our School Re-Opening Task Force

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will be prescribing what schooling will look like in the fall- very likely something like half the kids in and half the kids out each week.  Districts will need to follow these directions.  These may require funding that we cannot yet identify until our Re-opening Task Force figures out the steps and costs associated with that re-opening.  This task force, which includes the leadership team, the BEA president,  two parents, an epidemiologist, Heidi Porter (Bedford Health Dept), a school committee member, and Ken Whittier, began meeting last week.

Upcoming Budget-Related School Committee Meetings

On Wednesday, June 10, at noon, the Bedford School Committee will hold a short meeting to vote on the new FY21 budget number.  The timing of this is necessitated by the Wednesday afternoon Select Board meeting and next week’s FinCom meeting, all of which need to happen before materials are published for the impending Town Meeting.  However, the School Committee will meet at greater length Wednesday evening (June 10) to discuss and vote on the specific budget reduction recommendations that are attached here.  Please see the posting on the BPS website for Zoom link information.

Best wishes,

Jon

Jon Sills, Superintendent

 

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