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Published: Wednesday, 12/6/2006

Bedford school budget crunch clouds future

BY BENJAMIN ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Faced with declining state revenue and the rising costs of employee benefits, Bedford Public Schools is bracing for an unsteady future.

"We know that we are not going to grow out of the problem," said Ted Magrum, assistant superintendent of finance and operations. "We are facing a ticking bomb and all we can do is plan ahead."

The Bedford school board sees a 5-year, 0.5 millage on the May ballot as a short term fix. The board sent out a survey to gauge support, and a vast majority of the 374 households that responded were in favor of this millage.

If passed, this would cost owners of a $100,000 home about $19 more in 2007 than the $88 they paid in 2006.

The levy would bring in about $2.5 million and would be used to support capital improvements.

"Because, with finances declining, capital expenditures are the first thing that you cut," Mr. Magrum said.

A new roof for Temperance Road elementary school would be the first work done. Then portions of the roofs on the Bedford Junior High and Bedford High schools would follow.

A new boiler for the high school would replace one of the two, 45-year-old units. Asbestos flooring would be removed from Temperance Road, Jackman Road, and Douglas Road elementary schools.

The final priority would be upgrading parts of the junior high school's heating system.

These projects need the help of a levy because of the "ticking time bomb" that is the schools' current finances.

"We are tapping into our fund equity to delay the inevitable, but you can't live off of fund equity forever," Mr. Magrum said.

He calculates that Bedford schools' fund equity balance will decrease by about $1.3 million by June, leaving a total balance of about $2.68 million.

Then about $1.73 million would have to be taken from fund equity to balance the 2007-2008 budget, and $2.7 million would be needed to offset increased costs and declining revenue in 2008-2009.

That would then result in a negative fund balance of about $1.76 million for 2009-2010, which is not allowed by the state.

This would require Bedford to once again look at significant budget cuts for upcoming years.

And on top of all this, there is talk of mid-year state funding reductions. The state's own revenues are lower than it had predicted, so it may make up for this by lowing the per-pupil-foundation allowance it gives to schools."We are on the yellow alert with our state funding situation," said Superintendent Jon White.

The state indicated Bedford would receive $7,108 per student in 2006-2007, but Mr. Magrum fears that the state may cut this by $160.

This would result in $800,000 less for the year "and most of that would come out of fund equity, because you are not going to cut programs in the middle of the school year," he said.

Bedford Public Schools board will likely vote on the wording of the millage proposal for the May ballot at its next board meeting on Jan. 4.

Contact Benjamin Alexander-Bloch at: babloch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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