March 30, 2012

The ‘doable,’ the ‘dramatic’ and the ‘drastic’

The Bedford Central School District is now presenting its 2012-13 budget and is currently in the period known as “budget development.” A final budget should be ratified at the April 18 board meeting.

Fitting within the new requirements of the state tax cap requires a certain finesse, according to district superintendent Dr. Jere Hochman. “The tax cap has changed the logic of the way we approach the budget,” Dr. Hochman said in a discussion in his district office earlier this month.

If the district cuts too much, it will find itself with a smaller budget next year, requiring facing even more drastic reductions to meet future caps.

On Wednesday, March 7, Dr. Hochman presented his $124.2 million budget to the board of education. The board is trying to shrink the budget down $2.5 million to just over $121.6 million. After cuts, the final budget could reflect an increase of $2.5 million, or 2.23 percent, from last year’s budget.

Dr. Hochman and the board have prepared three scenarios for cuts: what Dr. Hochman called the “doable,” the “dramatic,” and the “drastic.” The doable — which Dr. Hochman said “has no direct impact on the kids” — fits within the state’s spending limitations. The dramatic budget scenario begins to affect staff, cutting an additional $2.5 million and lowers the spending increase.

Drastic cuts, along with the doable and the dramatic, would only be implemented if the budget is voted down and a contingency budget is required.

The administration has been working since last fall with members of the community, staff and board to determine where these cuts could most efficiently be made without detriment to the quality of education. With new mandates for teacher evaluations, higher pension rates and contributions, the district finds itself with even more responsibilities. Equalization rates — explained at a meeting this Wednesday night — are based on arcane and complex formulas that make the job even more complex. But with an open system that encourages participation of all residents on boards and committees and invites comments through open meetings, an active Web page, Internet-available meetings and surveys, Dr. Hochman and his team have managed to proceed with a sense of inclusiveness and to avoid the rancor of past budget discussions.

We’ve already seen how the district hopes to reduce costs by switching from their current transportation company to a new provider, which they expect could save $600,000. Other cuts in the “doable” category include savings in energy usage for district buildings, a music reorganization plan, and health plan reductions, among a few. “Dramatic” and “drastic” cuts start cutting into personnel, including reductions in foreign language teachers, phys ed teachers and programs, and elementary school aides.

Dr. Hochman and assistant superintendent for business Mark Betz are urging residents to provide feedback in the next few weeks as to what they see as the areas where they would accept cuts. They ask: “What is your rationale for preserving the item? What do you recommend to cut or replace in order to preserve this item? Is there a transitional change, or another approach or alternate funding that we could pursue to determine cuts?”

To participate in the district budget process, future board sessions will take place on Wednesday, April 11, April 18 and May 2. The district vote takes place Tuesday, May 15.

We are hopeful that this year’s budget will be one of the last of the lean years. As the state economy slowly inches toward recovery, as pension reform begins and state mandates are addressed, the administration sees a light at the end of the tunnel — but they acknowledge that even in a best case, the results could be three or four years away.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

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