The Bedford School Committee approved a $233,393 reduction in its fiscal 2024 budget on Tuesday in response to a Finance Committee request to reduce the year-to-year increase from 4 percent to its guideline of 3.5 percent.
If the Finance Committee accepts the reduction, there will be no changes in any personnel, programs, or services – at least not right away.
That’s because the committee achieved the reduction by cutting $150,000 from the out-of-district special-education tuition line, as well as $55,563 for a “reserve” teacher in case of a spike in elementary-grades enrollment.
But as the fiscal year progresses, the committee intends to ask for the money if needed from the Finance Committee reserve fund.
The remaining $27,398 comes from the town’s so-called “circuit-breaker” account, which is composed of state reimbursement for prior years’ expenditures in support of “high-cost” special-education students.
School Superintendent Philip Conrad, who worked with Finance Director Julie Kirrane on achieving the reductions, plans to present them at Thursday’s Finance Committee meeting. The committee sets the budget amounts that are voted at Annual Town Meeting. The revised total is $46,737,588.
School Committee Chair Brad Morrison, in answer to a question from his colleague Dan Brosgol, said he shared the approach with the chair of the Finance Committee, who “seemed to think this might be more favorably received.”
Brosgol pointed out that the Finance Committee tries to reduce the base budget, since that’s the source of future percentage increases.
“If this accounting trick works, I am on board with it. If they want more flesh to come off the budget,” he added, that’s a different conversation.
Answering Brosgol’s question, Conrad said the Finance Committee’s advice last week to reduce from 4 to 3.5 percent took him by surprise. “We thought the 4 percent budget was fiscally responsible and met the needs of the district long and short term,” he said.
Member Sheila Mehta-Green acknowledged that this basically moves the funds from School Committee to Finance Committee control. “We would need to ask them,” Conrad said, “and they’ve listened carefully to our presentations. My expectation is they understand what’s going on.”
Asked by member Sarah Scoville if there is a sufficient balance in the circuit-breaker account, Conrad said it’s a “small increment,” but a setback in efforts to rebuild the account after it was depleted in recent years.