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By LINDSAY OLIVIER
NORTH KINGSTOWN â€“ After months of town council meetings, joint meetings with the school committee and hearings from the public, the North Kingstown Town Council unanimously approved a budget of $95,607,925 for the 2012/2013 fiscal year Tuesday evening, an increase of $2,708,102 from t2011/2012.
The tax levy will go from $17.26 to $17.53, a 2.08 percent increase with will yield an average annual increase of $90 per household.
The public had one last chance Monday evening to comment on the budget and to urge the council to either give or deny the school committee what it was asking for in appropriation so to prevent cuts to extracurricular activities.
â€śWeâ€™re doing our best to try and please everyone, but we know thatâ€™s impossible,â€ť council president Liz Dolan said. â€śWe need to keep the taxpayers in mind and also the quality of education in town.â€ť
School Committee Chairperson Kimberly Page explained to the council and public Monday evening, that if the school district was level- funded, the students would be getting a minimal education as required by the basic education plan (BEP). Page said a two-percent increase would still affect the sports and music programs and a four-percent increase would be needed just to stabilize current programs.
â€śThe difference between a two percent increase and four is a mediocre school versus a high performing one,â€ť added Page.
â€śLast evening, we heard that if we (town council) didnâ€™t give the school district a four percent increase, we were choosing mediocre over excellence,â€ť council member Carol Hueston said. â€śI donâ€™t believe any member of this council favors mediocre. Money isnâ€™t the only thing that promotes excellence in education. Itâ€™s the teachers and staff that do most of it.â€ť
The $95.6 million figure is broken down as follows:
n General fund: $26,199,621 (+$1,270,410)
n School Fund: $57,243,694 (-$624,936)
n Debt Service: $5,484,654 (-$8,434)
n Library Fund: $1,465,091 (+$44,359)
n Municipal Court: $258,354 (+$10,429)
n School Capital Reserve Fund: $0 (-$117,300)
n Water Fund: $3,212,163 (+$115,882)
n Quonset/Davisivlle Recreation Fund: $1,744,386 (-$48,163)
Since the beginning of the budget process, the school district has been asking for a four- percent increase, but the newly approved budget only reflects a two percent increase. In the past, Superintendent Dr. Philip Auger has said that outcome would be â€śdiceyâ€ť for the district and have a â€śsignificantâ€ť impact for all.
Now that the school district will only receive a two-percent increase, among the reductions planned are the removal of four paraprofessionals in the district, the reduction of maintenance services, the reduction of one elementary music teacher, the removal of middle school sports at both schools and reduction of custodial services.
The main cause for concern from a sports perspective will be the removal of the hockey, boys and girls tennis, gymnastics, boys and girls swim and boys and girls golf teams. These sports were chosen due to their high expenditures and low enrollment. High school freshman sports would also be eliminated.
â€śEven though weâ€™ve been dealt with a two percent increase, weâ€™re still receiving over $650,000 less than what we got last year,â€ť said school committee vice-chairperson Richard Welch.
The school committee now needs to go back to the table and discuss $2.2 million in reductions from the original proposed budget.
â€śOur first priority is education and to be honest with you, I have no idea what weâ€™re going to do. We can only spend what the town gives us and Iâ€™m dreading the next few weeks,â€ť Welch added.
Page said she is devastated with the outcome of the vote and was scheduled to meet with Auger Wednesday afternoon to discuss what the next step is.
â€śMy own children are involved in sports, music and drama and I hate that those programs will be taken away from them and every other students in town.â€ť
The school committee will now have to consider the possibility of sports self-funding themselves. Page knows that sounds like a pay-for-play system but, according to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), itâ€™s not.
â€śThis is an awful scenario,â€ť she said.