The finance director for the Bedford Public Schools told the School Committee on Tuesday that “we are very interested” in complying with the Finance Committee’s guideline of a 3.5 percent increase for fiscal year 2025.”
Julie Kirrane added that “we are also very committed to meeting the essential needs of the district,” including contractual obligations.
One new tool that the schools’ leadership wants to employ is a special-education stabilization fund.
Tuesday’s discussion was described by Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang as “the kickoff of the annual process around budget development.”
The current year’s budget is close to $47 million.
Kirrane noted that with Annual Town Meeting less than five months away, “we are an early-cycle town,” and so “we are already pretty deep in the process,” including small-group budget discussions. Kirrane added that she has requested three-year projections from instructional department chairs.
Initial conversations with the Finance Committee are scheduled for mid-November, and presentation of the superintendent’s budget is envisioned by mid-December.
The special-education stabilization fund was established as part of the commonwealth’s 2016 Municipal Modernization Act.
It enables a reserve fund that could be used in future years for unanticipated or unbudgeted costs of special education, including out-of-district tuition and transportation. If approved by Town Meeting, the School Committee could designate a budget line item for the fund. Expenditures would have to be approved by the School Committee and the Select Board.
“We believe that this would be a prudent and effective measure that would support Bedford’s efforts to manage the growth of the schools’ operating budget while supporting…education programming required by students with significant disabilities,” read a memorandum from Chuang and Kirrane to the School Committee.
Kirrane said the proposal for a stabilization fund follows “several years of an emergency reserve posture” to cover unanticipated special-education expenses, particularly out-of-district tuition. The approach, she said, is consistent “with Bedford’s proven financial planning values, and it “could benefit the town in the long term.”
The proposal “is not unusual and it was created precisely for the challenges that all towns face,” Chuang told the committee.
Kirrane said maintenance-of-effort budget projections are based on enrollment projections, and those numbers continue to be refined. The addition of more than 40 children of migrant families in emergency shelter at the Bedford Plaza Hotel resulted in current enrollment that exceeded projections.
Although the status of the new arrivals a year from now is unknown, “we are planning for educational continuity for these kids as guaranteed by law,” Kirrane said.