Julie Kirrane said the assistance, through the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund (ESSER III), is estimated at $385,422. The grant is channeled through the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, she said.
Finance Committee Chair Steve Carluccio said his committee will discuss the implications of the federal aid at its meeting Thursday.
The proposed fiscal 2022 budget includes a $1.9 million reserve fund specifically set up to accommodate the schools’ needs as they recover from the negative effects of the pandemic. The money will be moved from the stabilization fund.
The issue the Finance Committee may address is whether to amend that budget at Town Meeting in anticipation of the federal relief. During budget planning, school officials pledged that local money would be the last option; any federal or state grants would be expended first.
Local funds that are not spent revert to free cash.
The education budget proposed for fiscal 2022 is $43,630,000, an increase of 3.8 percent over the current year, not far from the Finance Committee’s 3.5 percent guideline.
But as the School Committee requested, Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad also prepared what he called a “recovery budget,” an additional $1.9 million in anticipation of special considerations related to the pandemic.
The Finance Committee, monitoring the approach for weeks, did not object, but decided to categorize the additional funding as a reserve. Money allocated from the reserve fund during the year requires Finance Committee approval.
“We don’t know what we are going to be needing,” said School Committee Chair Dan Brosgol. But he stressed that the FinCom is giving carte blanche to educational imperatives. “What we heard from FinCom is: Don’t make it about money.”
The additional funds primarily provide for additional teachers in Davis and Lane Schools, to accommodate no more than 16 and 18 students per classroom, respectively.
That was based on the possibility that six-foot distancing would have to be carried over into the next academic year. But Conrad also emphasized that the smaller student-teacher ratio has a parallel impact: compensating for learning lost because of pandemic-induced compromises.
Now the distancing requirement in schools has been relaxed. But the need for more intense teaching and learning has not.
“The initial approval was we have to hedge our bets on everything,” said Brosgol, referring to the unknown trajectory of the virus. Now state health and educational officials have reduced social distancing standards, which means the emphasis is turning toward educational priorities.
“Data continue to show our schools are safe,” he pointed out. “No one has caught Covid in school. All the trends are heading in the right direction as far as Covid recovery.”
“What does recovery look like? That’s whatever Phil [Conrad] thinks we need, keeping smaller class sizes for kids because they are behind.“
The process will evolve, he said. “To get a read on where are the gaps educationally, we have no read on it as a committee…we will be meeting into the summer.”
“The funding of recovery could be maintenance of smaller class sizes for a year, some new math curricula, some additional staff at the high school and middle school. What that package means will be up to Phil to describe to us.” He noted, “The only question that is unresolved in my mind is: will we be required to offer a remote option?”
Brosgol pointed out that the Bedford schools “have been ahead of the curve on all of our decision-making.” The additional funds are “going to insulate us against requests that come our way.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763