Superintendent Hopeful about Dodging Current Deficit

Bedford Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang is hopeful that the $1.2 million deficit in the current education budget can be covered without additional cost to town taxpayers.

Chuang told the Select Board on Monday that “the lion’s share” of the funds may be available through two emergency state “circuit-breaker” programs. He added that he also will seek a $150,000 Finance Committee reserve fund transfer to complete the recovery.

In answer to a question from Select Board Chair Shawn Hanegan, Chuang said he hopes he has firm numbers by the end of the week from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Ben Thomas, Finance Committee chair, recommended to the Select Board that it include on the June 11 Special Town Meeting Warrant a $500,000 transfer from free cash to the reserve fund as a backup. The Town Meeting is being scheduled to present an article to pay for a fire station. The details of the warrant will be addressed at the board’s meeting on May 13.

Get The Bedford Citizen in your inbox!

The superintendent earlier this month acknowledged the deficit, resulting primarily from over spending in three areas of special education: transportation, out-of-district tuition, and professional support for programs in the schools. Expenses for substitute teachers also contributed to the problem.

Chuang prefaced his explanation on Monday with an apology for “the late nature of the disclosure of this situation. Obviously, it would have been better to have more time to respond and I take full responsibility for that.”

Since the revelation two weeks ago, Chuang said, “We have identified some additional sources of support.” 

One circuit-breaker fund is “designed to address exactly this sort oif situation,” he said, reimbursing towns in the current fiscal year in response to sudden cost increases that a town is not positioned to absorb.

He added that a newly-established relief fund is also geared to offset unexpected escalation. 

“The entire paradigm is a partnership between state and local government,” he said.

The conventional state circuit-breaker fund reimburses towns for previous year’s special education expenses at a 75 percent rate, with a deductible of about $50,000.

“We qualified for the main component and we will find out our eligibility by the end of the week, with disbursements before the end of May,” Chuang said, cautioning that “the state will balance claims with money available,” so reimbursement may not be full. Nevertheless, “I am cautiously optimistic that it will help address a good portion of what we identified.”

Residential tuition charges range from $200,000 to $400,000, Chuang said, and transportation can exceed $300 per day per student for day programs. “The price environment is very difficult.”

A reserve fund transfer to offset unbudgeted costs in out-of-district special-education tuition was an original piece of the budget formula for the current year, he noted.

Chuang added that there are ongoing “cost-cutting and budget containment measures we are beginning to implement,” designed to further offset the shortfall and provide a buffer for next year. 

Asked for specifics by board member Bopha Malone, Chuang said he and his leadership team are “taking a look at every position that needs to be filled for the remainder of the year and next year to make sure they are absolutely necessary.” 

He is also considering delaying or compressing some planned purchases of security equipment, reviewing requests for space modifications, and seeking possible savings in technology refreshing. Some summer professional development will be under review as well, he said.

The superintendent is planning a “full rundown” at the May 14 School Committee meeting, including “reporting back on internal control and systems issues.” 

One change will be shifting to quarterly from semiannual reporting. “We want to ensure that the accounting systems can be double checked for accounts that might be running over.”

“The town always will support special education,” Thomas said, noting that the Finance Committee has not yet discussed the deficit. He added, “I am unbelievably disappointed. My trust and belief in the systems have really taken a beating. This is the biggest budget in town. We need to do better.” Several other members of the Finance Committee were present.

Select Board members also were distressed at the delay in reporting the shortfall. Since one of the new out-of-district students was enrolled last summer, why wasn’t that flagged in budget modeling in the fall? wondered board member Dan Brosgol, who was a School Committee member until his election in March.

“Systems were not in place to shine a light on discrepancies,” Chuang said. “That is a gap that I am committed to close.” 

But Brosgol said, “Up until this year, the procedures have never resulted in a situation like this. Every year there is volatility and for some reason this year it was completely missed.”

“I would think that with this magnitude of spending it should have been fleshed out earlier,” said board member Paul Mortenson, regardless of process issues. “I think we need more details.” 

Chuang said there were “competing priorities” that curtailed the time required for an “analytical exercise.”

The superintendent said he had early concerns about transportation cost overruns, in response to a point by board member Emily Mitchell. In past years, however, those were offset by salary savings, he said.

Mitchell urged Chuang to revisit fiscal 2025 projections. 

“We plan to do a reforecast in July,” Chuang said, acknowledging other “unknowns” such as the outcome of contract talks with two educator collective bargaining units, and a new elementary school literacy curriculum now being researched.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Notify of

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bedford Resident
May 1, 2024 8:52 am

It is deeply disturbing that special education is being used as the scapegoat for this $1.2 million deficit. Mr. Chuang should provide the citizens of Bedford and the finance committee a detailed breakdown of what expense line items exceeded budget and or not budgeted for at all. I think this will highlight exactly where the deficit came from and if I had to guess it is certainly not from the terrific special education the town of Bedford has been providing to its resident for many years as these are recurring annual expenses that are easily budgeted and forecasted.

All Stories

Do you have a garden where you take care of either flowers or vegetables?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...
  • Junior Landscaping
Go toTop