Superintendent Details ‘Additional Needs’ in Proposed Budget

December 20, 2023

Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang on Tuesday provided the Bedford School Committee with details of his proposed $715,890 in spending for “additional needs” in fiscal 2025.

Chuang’s “maintenance of effort” budget increases over the current year’s spending by 4.7 percent, which he said includes “contractual salary adjustments.” The School Committee is negotiating with the Bedford Education Association on a new contract. Salaries comprise 82 percent of the year-to-year budget, Chuang’s report said.

The superintendent also wants Town Meeting to establish a new stabilization fund and seed it with $950,000 to cover multiple years of unanticipated out-of-district tuition charges for students with learning disabilities.

The total budget increase is almost six percent over the current year, Chuang said. 

The School Committee will return to the budget at its next meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 9. Committee members chose not to ask for a budget version reflecting a lower increase. Most of the focus is expected to be on the “additional funding to address challenges,” that are:

  • Converting to a new literacy curriculum for the elementary grades: $170,000. Chuang also wants the School Committee to request from the Finance Committee an additional $210,000 in one-time costs from either the fiscal 2024 or 2025 reserve fund, so preparations for implementation can begin as soon as possible. Chuang said a literacy transition team has been assembled, and it is hoped that a curriculum can be identified in the spring. He added that ideally, teachers would begin professional development sessions over the summer. 
  • A “coverage improvement model” for substitute teachers in the elementary schools: $102,604. Chuang proposes to replace the building substitute positions with general-education teaching assistants assigned to grade-level teams. He said administrators have had “very little success getting building subs and daily subs.” In answer to member Sheila Mehta-Green’s question, Chuang said, “The building sub idea is a pre-COVID structure that isn’t working now.” The proposed model is “less daunting,” he said, because teaching assistants get to know the curriculum and are part of a grade-level team. 
  • “Additional clinical expertise and trauma-informed approaches to support the current team” in responding to “the intensive needs of a small group of students” at Davis School: $150,000, as well as “a targeted reorganization of special-education administrative positions”: $46,286. 
  • An instructional data specialist position and a new data visualization project: $105,000. In answer to a question from member Sarah Scoville, Chuang acknowledged that this is “not a new idea, but we’ve never landed the plane.” 
  • An initial investment of $130,000 in the next three-year district improvement plan, which won’t be prepared for several months. “I anticipate that the community will identify priorities that they would like to start working on in the fall, and I expect there to be some momentum to move forward,” Chuang said. He is proposing that the money be escrowed to a special School Committee account, to ensure that the money will be spent on approved programs. 
  • Expanding the cafeteria waste diversion effort: $12,000.

“To me, the maintenance of effort is pretty much sacrosanct. It’s what we have to do,” said committee Chair Dan Brosgol, who announced earlier Tuesday that he would not be running for re-election and is seeking a seat on the Select Board. Brosgol said the committee should challenge the proposals for additional spending. “I don’t think we have to do all of them,” he said, although “there’s no doubt in my mind that literacy has to be funded.”

The superintendent said the additional spending would be offset by $138,828 saved from the reduction of two full-time positions. Brosgol said he would not support eliminating a fourth- grade section, as the student numbers are approaching the maximum as defined by guidelines set by the committee. 

Chuang said the proposed stabilization fund, enabled by state legislation passed a few years ago, is a way to mitigate the impact of an unbudgeted out-of-district charge. His plan calls for approval of spending from the fund as “a collaborative process with the town manager, Select Board, and Finance Committee.” Committee member Brad Morrison acknowledged that “costs could take us totally by surprise because they are completely out of our control.”

The cost of bus transportation is projected to increase by $118,167, or 8.6 percent, based on a single bid received for the service from Bedford Charter. “There is significant cost pressure in that sector,” Chuang said, especially with recruiting drivers. “The environment is extraordinarily challenging.”

The district, Chuang observed, is “very unusual in our commitment to free busing for every student in every grade,” far beyond what state law requires. He added that this is “aligned with our value of equitable access.”

If the committee implements fee-based transportation, he predicted, not only will there be additional costs for processing, but also “people will stop riding the bus,” and that will add to traffic and “change the ecosystem of how the town operates.”

Chuang thanked Julie Kirrane, the schools’ finance director, for “extraordinary work over the last several weeks” in assembling and presenting the budget details.

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