The Bedford School Committee on Tuesday unanimously adopted a $46,970,981 million budget for fiscal year 2024, including a reduction of five teaching positions in Davis and Lane Schools in response to a student population shrinkage.
The Finance Committee is scheduled to review the budget on Feb. 9. The version that emerges from that meeting will be on the March 27 Annual Town Meeting warrant.
During Tuesday’s meeting and the public hearing that preceded it, the only budget issue raised was the staff reduction. The impact of an enrollment decline is based on class-size guidelines approved by the School Committee.
Several teachers attended the meeting in the high school’s large-group instruction room. Lane School teacher Kevin Smaldone, on behalf of the Executive Board of the Bedford Education Association, read a prepared statement that began, “We are here as a collective unit, as teachers, parents, and stakeholders in the Bedford Public Schools, to stand in solidarity with each other, but also you and the whole town of Bedford; as we always have and always will.”
The teacher association, he continued, is “expressing concern about the reduction in teaching staff, at a time where students continue to work through the impacts of the past few years. There is a shortage of highly qualified teachers and personnel; and the eye of this committee is performance above and beyond that of pre-pandemic levels.”
The statement also said, “We are also here looking to protect the future of our schools and the relationship between the BEA and this committee; as well as to support the incoming superintendent.”
Later in the meeting, committee Chair Brad Morrison said, “It has always been clear to me that one of our greatest strengths is our collaborative relationship with the teachers and staff and other parts of town government, and this is something I want to maintain and prosper even more.”
Only one other resident spoke at the public hearing, a parent who advocated retaining “at least one more teacher per grade” because “I feel our kids are just barely catching up. Seeing those class sizes is really concerning for me.”
However, member Dan Brosgol said, “This week we have received some questionable comments and emails from citizens.” He asserted, “I will not abide comments from parents or the community that the School Committee does not support schools or its teachers. The budget reflects the reality of enrollment and needs of our schools. It is absolutely credible and has my full support.”
He emphatically defended the School Committee’s resume, not only adding “dozens of teachers” since 2015, but also additional faculty and staff in response to the needs generated by the pandemic. “We have consistently advocated and secured budget increases year after year,” he stated. “We led the town during an incredibly difficult time.”
Member Ann Guay, noting that this is her tenth and final budget vote before retiring from the committee, said, “The way we get buy-in from the community is we set guidelines. When we’ve gone in to ask for more teachers, we’ve had numbers to support it. If we expect the town to support us when the numbers go up, we have to make adjustments when the numbers go down so significantly.”
Morrison noted that the difference between fiscal years 2020 and 2024 in elementary student enrollment is 195 fewer.
Asked by committee member Sheila Mehta-Green about the impact of retaining the positions, Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad said about $250,000, which would mean a 5 percent budget increase over the current fiscal year instead of the proposed 4 percent.
“I understand the process,” said member Sarah Scoville. “I am supportive of this budget as presented even with acknowledging the value of small classes.”
Brosgol noted, “There are towns around here with class sizes of 26, 28. We did a very good job of keeping our numbers low on purpose.”
Mehta-Green added, “We are making final decisions on guidelines we have been given.”
Conrad noted that a year ago there was a small reduction, “but we were able to retain our teachers.” He has said that at least some of the educators affected for the next fiscal year will be offered other positions in the district.
Morrison thanked Conrad, Finance Director Julie Kirrane, and their staff for their work on budget preparation. “Every year it is an amazing process,” he said.