The Bedford School Committee is on board with most of Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang’s reductions in “additional needs” delineated in his proposed fiscal 2025 budget.
The $136,697 in net changes reduce the budget total to about $48,380,000, which is a 5.66 increase, about $2,655,000 over the current year. The “maintenance of effort” portion accounts for 4.7 percent of that increase.
Budget details will be presented at a 7 p.m. statutory open budget hearing next Tuesday in the Select Board’s Town Hall meeting room. Following the hearing, the committee is expected to continue to discuss and then adopt a budget and present it to the Finance Committee at a meeting on Thursday, Jan.25. The Finance Committee’s guideline for fiscal 2025 budget increases is 3.5 percent.
Chuang explained his proposed reductions:
- An instructional data specialist and data dashboard, originally proposed for $105,000. “We will take a closer look at how to support our data infrastructure needs,” Chuang said.
- An elementary grade coverage model that would replace hard-to-find substitute teachers, trimmed from $102,604 to $70,906. The model designates educational assistants and teaching assistants to fill in when needed. “It builds in somebody who is ready to step in,” Chuang said. The net impact adds less than one-half of the full-time position.
- Initial implementation investment in the upcoming district improvement plan, cut from $130,000 to $75,000. Chuang wants to segregate the funds within the School Committee reserve account so expenditures would have to be approved by the committee. The plan is still several months away.
“Additional needs” that were unscathed include $170,000 to implement a new elementary grades literacy curriculum and $150,000 for “additional clinical expertise and trauma-informed approaches” to support “the intensive needs of a small group of students at Davis School.”
The superintendent also restored a fourth-grade teaching position, thus maintaining nine classrooms with an average population of 21.9 students. The maximum guideline for that grade is 22-24.
School Committee members Sarah McGinley, Sheila Mehta-Green, Brad Morrison, and Sarah Scoville supported the revised version.
Dan Brosgol, committee chair, opposed any advance funding for the district improvement plan. “We should ask for what we need and not a penny more,” he said. “When we have needed money in previous years, we have been able to find it.”
Committee members continued to focus on the procurement and implementation of a new elementary literacy curriculum. The total estimated price tag is $380,000, of which $210,000 is considered startup costs. Chuang is recommending that the committee seek a transfer from the fiscal 2024 reserve fund to cover those costs.
Chuang acknowledged that it is hard to ascertain some of the expenses, as there are variables in the curricular products as well as professional development programs needed for staff implementation. He pointed out that an ad hoc committee appointed to review product choices hasn’t yet begun meeting, and is scheduled to continue into the spring.
The superintendent confirmed Morrison’s breakdown of expenses: purchase of the core literacy curriculum, costs associated with teachers’ time in professional development, and outside consultants to provide training and coaching. Chuang said future operating budget line items will be for “consumables,” which students will use year by year.
In answer to Morrison’s question, Chuang said he doesn’t know the usual life cycle of a literacy curriculum product. Scoville used a pendulum metaphor to illustrate how educational approaches can shift over several years.
Answering a question from McGinley, Chuang said as many as 100 educators will receive professional development instruction, and “we would have onboarding” for any new teachers who need it. “My concern is that we are able to live up to our commitment,” McGinley said, if expenses turn out to exceed the budgeted amount.
Brosgol said he would prioritize adding $75,000 to ensure sufficient funds over allocating that amount for unspecified district improvement plan steps.
“This is a long hard process and a slow-moving system, and it’s going to take a lot of will and energy, which I know Cliff has,” he said.