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January 29. 2013 10:45PM

Bedford school budget up for debate

BEDFORD - The 2014 school budget is on its way to the ballot box, bringing with it a potential 52-cent tax increase per $1,000 assessed.

The preliminary 2014 budget is $62,660,875, representing a $2.3 million increase over the current budget. The tax increase - which would bring the tax rate to $15.35 per $1,000 assessed - comes from 23 cents of staff costs, reduction in revenues at 17 cents and spending increases at 11 cents.

Last year's tax rate was 39 cents less than the previous year, meaning that from 2011 to 2013 the rate would have increased 13 cents.

The district aimed to minimize the tax impact by not adding any new programs, but maintained current ones. The 2011-2012 budget was $60,369,487. The current year's budget is $61,032,604.

Salaries and benefits constitute the lion's share of the proposed 2014 budget, at 72 percent, or $45.1 million.

The two-year teachers' contract would cost the town $729,000 in 2014 and $861,000 the following year, increasing the tax rate by 21 cents. That includes a 3 percent salary increase the first year, boosting the earnings of those teachers who earn less than their counterparts in peer districts.

There is $8.5 million budgeted for health insurance, slightly more than half the $15.3 million allotment for benefits. There is $3.1 million is destined for the state retirement pot, an increase of $600,000 over this years contribution thanks to state cuts.

The district employs 655 positions, down from last year's 661, but still up from 557 in 2007, when Bedford High School was built.

In 2012, Bedford had a per-pupil cost of $11,411, which was $1,596 less than the state average. This year's enrollment is at 4,397, an increase of 203 students since 2007. Enrollment is expected to decrease over the next three years by about 200 students.

Last year's school tax was $14.83, constituting 73 percent of the total tax rate. The town took 21 percent of the $20.23 tax, and the county took 6 percent.

On March 12, voters will decide on 10 warrant articles, nine of which are recommended by the school district. They include the election of school officials; a salary increase for teaching staff; a salary increase for maintenance staff; a salary increase for secretaries, clerks, instructional teaching assistants and kitchen staff; the 2014 operating budget; the acceptance of gifts; and a special warrant article.

Should the operating budget be rejected by the voters, a $61.2 million default budget would take effect, $622,000 less than the proposed budget.

Roy Stewart of the Bedford Taxpayers Association wondered if the assistant principal added in the budget would improve test scores.

"We don't know, well, why are you adding him?" Stewart said. "We hope he will, but being hopeful is one thing. With all the staff they've got, and all the paraprofessionals and all the experts, man, the school district with a 13 -1 (student-to-staff) ratio is crazy in this town."

Stewart said if parents want small class sizes, they should send their kids to private academies.

Bedford Superintendent Tim Mayes said no one at the district ever claimed the cost-sharing would pay for increased spending.

"What we said was the increased cost sharing was going to save the district considerable money, not only last year but each year going forward," Mayes said.

Mayes said because of the current year's teachers contract, health insurance costs for next year are about the same as what they are this year. If you go to most districts, that's not the case. And that's with a 6.4-percent increase in insurance costs, he added.

As for the added assistant principal, Mayes said McKelvie Middle School has been in need of that position for three years, but it has been jettisoned because of the economy.

The first deliberative session is scheduled for Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. at the Bedford High School theater. Voting will take place March 12 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the high school gymnasium.

The proposed budget is available at bit.ly/XIelMI.



srios@newstote.com


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