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Bedford Central Faces $2.6M Deficit For 2015-16 School Year

Bedford Schools Superintendent Jere Hochman speaks at a recent budget presentation.
Bedford Schools Superintendent Jere Hochman speaks at a recent budget presentation. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

BEDFORD, N.Y. -- Bedford Central is facing a budget deficit of roughly $2.6 million for the 2015-16 school year, according to preliminary figures released by the district this month.

The early data, which do not factor into changes in revenues or expenditures, forecast a gap of exactly $2,662,847.

A preliminary budget, which will include details for how it will be balanced, will be unveiled in March, according to a timeline released by Superintendent Jere Hochman. There will be public information sessions on the budget at all five elementary schools, he explained. The board is scheduled to adopt a budget in April. The budget is subject to a public vote on May 19.

For the current school year, the district closed a roughly $3.7 million deficit by using fund balance and reserves.

Weaning Bedford Central off of fund-balance spending and reserves usage for annual budgeting was discussed at the school board's Jan. 14 meeting. Interest in reducing such usage comes following reports from the New York State Comptroller's office and Moody's Investors Service warning against the degree of it.

The Moody's report, which was released last summer, reaffirmed the district's Aa1 bond rating but lowered the fiscal outlook to negative. The report can be read here .

One proposal discussed at the meeting, which came from the district's finance committee for the school board's consideration, calls for creating a budget that would not be balanced with fund balance by the 2017-18 school year.

Hochman talked about a scenario in which reserves spending would continue for the short term but there would be a targeting for when the amount is dropped to zero.

Multi-year financial planning for the district, a concept that is not new for Bedford Central, was also discussed in connection with weening the district off of fund-balance and reserves spending. However, Hochman warned that multi-year planning may lead to reductions in programs and/or services in absence of changes to variables regarding salaries and benefits. The district currently faces the need to reach a new administrators' union contract, with talks for its teachers' union and CSEA for their new deals in the coming years.

While Hochman emphasized cost control, he also talked about how the growth trajectory for employee compensation has slowed. In the last six years, five union contracts have been settled, the superintendent explained.

Salaries make up 51.7 percent of the district's costs, while benefits make up 25.9 percent, according to data included in the district's recent budgetary outlook presentation. However, the pension costs are stabilizing, according to Assistant Superintendent for Business Mark Betz. For example, he noted a drop in the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) from 15.53 percent to a range between 13 to 13.5 percent.

“That’s a significant drop," he said. The Employee Retirement System (ERS) also is having a drop, according to Betz.

Meanwhile, a list of the district's current fund-balance and reserve levels show that it has more than $4.5 million in unassigned fund balance, which is not tied to any specific use. The district also has more than $3.6 million dedicated to specific purposes, which range from paying for tax refunds caused by assessment reductions to covering ERS costs. The district is not allowed to set up a reserve to pay for TRS costs, according to Betz.

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