The Bedford Board of Education last week approved a $139.7 million budget, closing an original $3.3 million budget gap through additional savings and using just over half of a projected $1.9 million surplus projected from this year.
Trustees were also able to trim the tax levy from their original target of a 2.02 percent increase to 1.85 percent in the 2020-21 budget, trying to find some relief for taxpayers in troubled economic times.
The final budget being sent to the voters, cuts 18 full-time equivalent positions but school officials were able to stave off deeper reductions.
“It’s a bit melancholy for me and a bit bittersweet, this budget, but I think we did the best we could do,” said Board President Colette Dow.
Earlier this month, district officials, factoring in an anticipated 20 percent cut in Bedford’s roughly $8 million state foundation aid that has been discussed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo unless New York receives federal assistance, needed to close a $3.3 budget deficit. They also refused to touch $2.55 million in expected transportation savings, but it is unclear whether districts will have to pay part or all of that money to transportation providers.
Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joel Adelberg introduced a second round of reductions totaling 13.4 full-time equivalent positions saving more than $1.6 million. The cuts call for the elimination of two full-time special education positions; 1.4 English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL); one elementary school tier support; two elementary teachers; three middle school teachers; one high school teacher; two support staff members; and one full-time specials position.
That was in addition to Adelberg’s initially proposed spending plan with a series of additions and reductions that resulted in 4.6 positions fewer positions, including four fewer elementary school teachers.
Adelberg said the cuts push class size to 25 or 26, the district’s contractual limit with the teacher’s union, in second grade at Bedford Hills and West Patent elementary schools and second and fourth grade at Mount Kisco Elementary School.
“We made some wise choices, not great choices, but the best choice we could under the circumstances, and they’re sustainable,” he said.
Between the board’s meetings on May 6 and back-to-back sessions last Tuesday and Wednesday, the administration was able to make a series of small reductions shaving about $200,000 from the deficit, reducing the gap to $1,479,000.
Then the superintendent’s team and the Bedford Association of School Administrators took pay freezes for next year along with the elimination of the 5:30 high school bus run and a $500,000 transfer from operating expenses to the capital budget, which lowered spending by another $670,000 to $809,000, said Assistant Superintendent for Business and Administrative Services Cynthia Hawthorne.
From there, trustees debated last week how much of the projected $1,924,000 surplus realized through this year’s school closure should be applied to the deficit, to other reserve funds, such as the Teachers Retirement System, tax certioraris or health insurance, or whether to make additional cuts. Some trustees also wanted to get the tax levy increase under 2 percent.
The previous week, some board members balked at using most of this year’s likely surplus. Trustee Beth Staropoli countered that more cuts for her was unacceptable.
“I don’t want to cut more programs,” Staropoli said. “I don’t want to offer less to our students, and I believe everyone believes that.”
Lowering the tax levy to 1.85 percent required finding another $220,000, Dow said.
Despite discussion of wanting to limit surplus use, the board concluded that more cuts were unacceptable and went ahead with applying just over $1 million in surplus.
Dow said the unique circumstances made use of the surplus acceptable.
“Are you funding a real structural deficit or are not you?” she asked. “In my opinion, this is not. I may be wrong but I don’t believe we have a structural deficit next year. I think we have taken out sustaining costs.”
Vice President Edward Reder thanked administrators for their givebacks.
“Words can’t express how grateful we are in the community for the shared sacrifice here,” Reder said. “It’s remarkable, the sacrifices. We appreciate it. Thank you so much.”
If a budget should fail, it is unclear whether districts will have a chance for a second vote this year.