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The fiscal challenges keep on mounting for the Bedford School District.
A few weeks after district officials learned that they stand to lose more than $1.7 million in total state aid under Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed state budget, last week it was shared that health insurance costs may skyrocket up to $2.5 million for next school year.
Superintendent Dr. Robert Glass said it appears the district may need to use as much as $4 million in fund balance in 2024-25 to cover its expenses.
“Somewhere between $2 million and $4 million is likely to have to come out from our savings account, from our fund balance next year, after whatever rightsizing adjustments and reductions we have to make in expenditures,” Glass said. “So we’re still not there. A large part of this is due to the state.”
Last month, during a budget overview presentation, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Administrative Services Tom Cole had projected a 13 percent increase in health insurance costs for 2024-25. The district self-insures when it comes to health insurance for its staff.
However, that was the week before the district found out that changes in the formula to determine Foundation Aid, the largest source of state aid for districts, that Bedford would be facing a nearly $1.6 million reduction in that line.
Hochul has proposed in her executive spending plan to eliminate the hold-harmless provision, which in the past did not reduce a district’s Foundation Aid based on how much it received the previous year. Also, the governor is now using a 10-year average to determine CPI rather than calculating the aid based on the past year, which goes against precedent.
Another factor contributing to Bedford’s loss of state aid is the continued drop in enrollment. The district has experienced a decline of 844 students, a nearly 20 percent reduction, since 2015-16. The cratering enrollment will also be forcing Bedford to “right-size” its staff, which has added 35 staff members during that same period.
Glass vowed to work with state legislators and other districts across the county and region to fight for the restoration of aid. The Bedford Board of Education is scheduled to address budget issues at each one of its scheduled meetings into April. Glass is expected to formally make his budget presentation at the board’s Mar. 20 meeting.
“We don’t know if it’s possible to balance the budget through reductions exclusively this year, going into 24-25,” Glass said. “So it’s a significant issue.”
It is estimated that Bedford will have about $5.1 million in undesignated fund balance at the end of the current school year, up from $4,164,000 last June 30. It also has $5 million in health insurance reserve. Totaling all reserve lines, the district held $24,975,000 in all-sources reserves and is projected to add nearly $1 million to that total by the end of this school year.
Board President Robert Mazurek said while there are warning signs, the district is working to head on the right path. It has started a process to try to limit the amount of fund balance used each year. For the current school year, $2.9 million was used from reserves. That is expected to drop to $2 million, although there are more uncertainties.
“There’s dark clouds on the horizon for the district’s financial position,” Mazurek said. “That’s not necessarily in the present time. We’re not under water; we’re riding the wave. We’re looking at ways in matching the enrollment, etc., to address that pending situation. But we’re not sort of under water at the moment, so let’s not lose sight of the math on that.”
During last Wednesday’s board meeting, Bedford Teachers Association (BTA) President Carol DeGeorge said there has been tremendous concern about what may happen with faculty members with the fiscal upheaval that the district faces and the potential for significant budget cuts. DeGeorge said there could be an exodus of some of the best teachers
“Bedford was once a district that poached top talent from other districts,” DeGeorge said. “Unfortunately, many districts have started to poach our best teachers in the last few years. A lot of this is due to budget constraints and raises that are not equal with surrounding districts. Our teachers want to make a career here, but under these circumstances it will be hard to keep people for an entire career of up 25-plus years.”
Glass said the administration appreciates and values the teachers and looks forward to working with the BTA to navigate through a difficult period.
“We look forward to finding creative solutions together to get through the challenges we all face,” he said.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/