Bedford schools getting back into black

Projections show district will have $111,060 balance by June 30


TEMPERANCE — Bedford Public Schools officials are optimistic that by the fiscal year’s end, their district will be officially out of deficit, three years ahead of schedule.

At last week’s regular school board meeting, Chief Financial Officer Sharon Ramirez presented what she described as “a picture of where we think we are at the moment,” and the picture was very pretty relative to where the strapped Bedford schools have been in recent years.

Ms. Ramirez projects the district will end the fiscal year on June 30 with a $111,060 fund balance.

“It’s not a lot of money,” she said, “but it is positive” and a welcome change from operating deficits the school system has been whittling away at to comply with its state-ordered deficit-elimination plan.

What’s more, Ms. Ramirez said, the operating surplus appears sustainable, according to her five-year forecast, although she cautioned that budget projections vary and depend on such factors as enrollment, state funding and, as illustrated by this winter, heating expenses. Affordable Care Act compliance will cost $250,000 annually starting next year, she added.

Financial stabilization has been a top goal and duty of the school board and Superintendent Mark Kleinhans, who joined the Bedford schools in July. The district was in violation of state law while in deficit, and has been on a cost-cutting campaign that included closing two elementary schools.

The deficit-elimination plan, which as first drafted didn’t lift the district out of the red until the 2016-17 school year’s end, has been revised to reflect the most recent, favorable numbers and is under Michigan Department of Education review.

Any state declaration that Bedford schools are out of deficit will wait until the district’s annual audit is completed in October, Ms. Ramirez said.

Mr. Kleinhans called the financial officer’s presentation “huge, huge news” for the school system. He credited the closing of Temperance Road Elementary School at the end of last school year with saving $800,000 annually, and cited concessions by teachers and other employees.

The improved financial picture, the superintendent said, means the deficit-elimination plan’s next step, elimination of bus transportation for high-school students, is “no longer on the table.”

“When that does happen, people leave the district and funding goes down,” he explained.

Mr. Kleinhans also gave the board a glimpse of a campaign to promote passage of a construction levy planned for the May 6 ballot.

Its goal, the superintendent said, is to portray the school district as a “premier learning organization” based on stable finances, student achievement, and first-rate facilities. He said the school system’s finances are better, student achievement already was superior, and now was the time to address aging and outdated school buildings.

If approved by voters, the $70 million plan includes a new elementary school and myriad other building upgrades. But it first must be authorized by the Michigan Department of Treasury, and the board expects to hold a special meeting Feb. 20, five days before the filing deadline with the Monroe County Clerk, to send the tax request to the voters.

Under the board’s plan, voters will be asked to approve an additional 3.9 mills, but the net new cost to property owners would be softened by the expiration this year of 2.3 mills of other district taxes. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay about $240 more annually.