Bedford Central's Budgetary Pressure Eases Slightly With State-Aid Boost

BEDFORD, N.Y. -- Although the Bedford Central School District continues to face a tough fiscal landscape, a boost in state aid will be beneficial.

Bedford Central's school board at a recent meeting.
Bedford Central's school board at a recent meeting. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

The district is set to receive an aid increase of 754,077, or 13.2 percent, as a result of the state's new budget, according to an announcement from Assemblyman David Buchwald.

The new state budget includes a full repeal of the much-maligned Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which was imposed during the recession. The GEA involved withholding funding promised for school districts and diverting it to balance state budgets. Critics in Bedford Central, such as school board President Jennifer Gerken and Bedford Teachers Association President Michael Groarke, have compared the aid diversion to theft. 

Most of Bedford Central's aid increase is due to the repeal of the GEA, according to Rich Stein, a spokesman for Buchwald. The remainder involves reimbursement funding for costs taken on by the school district.

“With the full restoration of the GEA, school districts can more confidently plan their yearly budgets, thereby ending an era of uncertainty for the education community and taxpayers," Buchwald said in a statement. "I have received thousands of letters solely on this issue, and I am happy to report back to my constituents that we have repealed the GEA."

John Chambers, Bedford Central's interim superintendent, praised the work of residents and the district's state legislative delegation for their work in pushing for the end of funding cuts.

"We heartily appreciate the lobbying efforts of local citizens, led by our Parent Presidents, and the responsiveness of Assemblyman Buchwald and Senators Latimer and Murphy."

About $5.8 million has been withheld from the district since the GEA was enacted. 

The restoration comes as Bedford Central officials are facing an arduous budget process. In order to close a budgetary gap of roughly $8.8 million, officials are proposing an override of the state-mandated tax levy cap, which limits annual increases in property tax revenue collections to the lesser of two percent or inflation. The proposed override, which would require approval from 60 percent of the voters in May, involves a levy hike of 3.82 percent.

The override, so far, is paired with deep cuts in teaching staff. An earlier iteration call for cutting multiple elementary school librarians and all modified sports teams, although district officials are now searching for alternative reductions.

The aid boost, while helpful, does not completely reverse the district's financial problems. Neither the kinds of cuts contemplated, nor the prospect of a cap override, have been taken off the table yet. As of last week, before the aid figures were announced, officials determined that additional savings of $1.04 million would need to be found

Some neighboring school districts, in contrast, are receiving larger state-aid increases despite facing considerably stronger budgetary pictures. Katonah-Lewisboro, which is seeking to cut its tax levy for the third year in a row, will get an aid raise of $1,112,813, or 17.7 percent. Chappaqua, which has a proposed budget within the tax levy cap, will get an increase of $954,262, or 15 percent. 

Stein, whose office sent out the aid figures, explained that Katonah-Lewisboro and Chappaqua will receive larger increases than Bedford Central because more money was withheld from them previously due to the GEA.

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