By PAUL J. SPETRINI
WEST GREENWICHâ€”A special meeting of the Exeter-West Greenwich School Committee last Monday night was suppose to be a chance for members of the public to sit, listen to and ask questions about the proposed 2012-2013 school budget.
Instead, less than a half-dozen of non-School Committee members showed up and the meeting was over in a total of 21 minutes.
Then again, when you have as straight-forward a budget as EWG does this season, thereâ€™s really not much to question.
Today, voters in Exeter and West Greenwich will take to the polls to accept or reject a proposed $22.7 million budget. Unlike previous years, however, thereâ€™s not much wiggle room as the EWG school committee is asking for the same amount it received last yearâ€”with one small but notable exception in the amount of local contributionâ€”meaning, by law, voters would either have had to accept the budget as proposed, offer an amended budget of the same amount or offer an amended budget that is higher than the school committee requested.
As of last weekâ€™s meeting, no amended budgets had been submitted and with the deadline having already passed, voters will have one choice on the ballot.
Speaking before a small crowd inside the EWG auditorium last week, Superintendent Dr. Thomas Geismar explained that getting to the presented budget was not an easy task, one that required a lot of concessions to achieve level-funding.
â€śThe School Committee put in a lot of time and effort,â€ť Geismar said. â€śIt met for many hours throughout January and February, met with both town councils to get to this point and I think theyâ€™re proud of where we are. I think we can make this work and then move forward.â€ť
The proposed budget calls for a total local contribution of $22,777,235 for the 2012-2013 school year. Of that amount, $10,365,920 would come from Exeter (44.87 percent) and $12,411,315 would come from West Greenwich (55.13 percent), representing the percentage of students each town has in the district.
The numbers were a point of contention during the budget process as town council members from West Greenwich questioned how the percentage of students were calculated, causing such strife within the school committee that member Paul McFadden briefly walked out of one of the joint meetings.
The finalized budget proposed to voters, however, shows a reduced difference as the town of West Greenwich is now only being asked for $145,775 more than it was in 2011-2012.
The budget, as proposed, estimates a slight increase in state aid ($6,089,948 compared to last yearâ€™s $5,981,252), a slight decrease in group home aid ($210,000 vs. $330,000) and an estimated $267,282 taken from the districtâ€™s surplus.
To reach the level-funded amount, Geismar said, the district will cut two elementary school positionsâ€”one from Wawaloam and one from Metcalfâ€”and will cut back tuition for out of district placements and support services. At the same time, however, the district will keep its k-6 reading program and bring in a math coach thanks to a federal grant. In addition, the 2012-2013 budget calls for a considerable upgrade in technology, with the goal to install wireless internet access throughout the school distrct.
Voting takes place all day today, with polls open from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. at both Exeter and West Greenwich Town Hall.