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Published: Wednesday, 4/20/2005

Bedford schools consider cuts

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TEMPERANCE - The Bedford Board of Education is expected Tuesday night to consider a series of proposed cuts in programs and personnel for the coming school year to stave off at least part of an anticipated $2.4 million shortfall.

But several board members say they also want to at least investigate other means of dealing with portions of their funding deficit, including a possible incentive plan to encourage longtime employees to retire or placing a small sinking fund before voters this summer.

The board had originally scheduled a meeting tonight to consider the reduction plan outlined two weeks ago by acting Superintendent Jon White, but the meeting was rescheduled to Tuesday so that all seven board members could attend.

Among the budget moves being considered:

• Saving of $320,000 by freezing textbook purchases.

• Eliminating fifth-grade band at a savings of $95,000.

• Eliminating an assistant principal position in the high school, saving $112,500.

• Replacing an assistant principal in the junior high with an administrative substitute, saving $84,500.

• Cutting a number of non-classroom positions, such as nurses, lead teachers, counselors, and reading specialists.

Several board members say they are considering a proposal to place a small "sinking fund" before voters that would provide a new dedicated source of revenue to pay for the district's capital needs, such as a pair of roofing projects scheduled to take place this summer that are expected to take more than $250,000 from the general fund.

"It's something that we have to consider. If it's small enough, I think we need to ask," current board treasurer John Mohr said.

If put before voters in August and passed, a sinking fund of one-half mill would provide the district with about $450,000 in additional revenue for capital projects that could be removed from general fund obligations, freeing up additional money for operations. A half-mill would also be less than the six-tenths of a mill that taxpayers have saved from the annual rollback of the $19.9 million bond issue passed by voters in 1998.

Voters initially were taxed 2.64 mills during their first year of paying on the 15-year-note. But by last year, Bedford's continued growth has meant the tax rate needed to collect the same amount of money had fallen to just over 2 mills, Bedford Public School officials said.

While placing a sinking fund request before voters would leave the political decision in the hands of taxpayers, district administrators have raised continual arguments in the past against providing larger incentives to urge the more than 50 certified employees eligible to retire. Incentives, they have said, don't add up to savings because they are also paid to those who would have retired without an inducement, masking their true cost.

Bedford's smaller neighbors to the east and west, Mason Consolidated and Whiteford Agricultural, have introduced incentive packages in recent years to encourage longtime district employees to retire, saving the districts money whether the jobs are replaced or not.

Mason's incentive for teachers and administrators paid them $175 for each day of unused sick time they had accumulated, up to a total of 115 days, for a total of $20,125. A dozen district employees took the offer last year, and another six this year, saving the district about $180,000, said Deanna Rowe, Mason's Director of Finance.

Whiteford's school board just last week approved an incentive plan for its teachers that would provide an annual tax-sheltered annuity of $10,000 for each retiree for three years. The annuity would supplement each retiree's pension plan. Whiteford officials said they won't be able to determine how much of a savings the incentive plans will provide until they know how many employees will take them.



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