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Published: Wednesday, 3/17/2010

Bedford won't close elementary building


TEMPERANCE - For next school year, Bedford Public Schools officials have removed from the table closing an elementary to deal with its projected $5.4 million deficit.

Superintendent Ted Magrum made the announcement at a recent Board of Education meeting. Mr. Magrum said factors that entered into discussions on shuttering an elementary included the classroom sizes that would result and the impact it would have on the district if enrollment increases.

"It may be off the table this year, but we may not have a choice next year. If enrollment declines, that makes the decision a little bit easier," he said.

Closing one of the five elementaries is expected to save $420,000 to $450,000 the first year and about $500,000 in subsequent years said Josh Dyer, district chief financial officer.

"We did have a task force of administrators looking into the potential aggregate impact to the school district on what it would do to the budget if we eliminated a building," he said.

Savings would result from not having to pay utilities for one less school building, as well as salaries and benefits for administrative, support, teachers, and maintenance workers. "We don't anticipate a lot of layoffs. We will still have the same number of students who need picked up and dropped off on buses and the same number who need to be taught," Mr. Dyer said. "Unless you are willing to increase class size, there isn't going to be a lot of layoffs."

The five elementaries have little excess capacity, with the buildings housing 530 pupils on average, officials said. The district has only four empty classrooms in its elementary schools.

Factors that could impact class space include legislation that would mandate full-day kindergarten. A law approved two years ago was postponed.

Mr. Magrum said the school system would be burdened if the state required full-day kindergarten.

School officials also are concerned about enrollment increases from parents moving their children from parochial to public schools.

"At this point in time, there are too many unknowns to justify such a dramatic change to the school district," Mr. Magrum said in a statement against closing a school building.

The district's projected $5.4 million deficit is based on forecasts that it will lose up to $268 per student in state funding.

The district is looking at taking nearly $2.6 million this year from its fund balance, also known as the rainy-day account, to balance the books, Mr. Dyer said. That would leave the district with about $482,000 in savings. "That is why we are running into problems," he said.

Because it can't control what it gets from the state, the district likely will look for ways to cut expenses, including cutting personnel costs, which account for about 88 percent of the budget.

Contracts with the district's eight unions expire June 30.

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