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Local schools not sure how to react to funding formula

March 12, 2011

Exeter-West Greenwich Regional School District Superintendent Dr. Thomas Geismar has an expression he likes to refer to that prevents him from overreacting to bad news.
“I always say to myself, don’t cry before you’re hurt,” Geismar said in a phone interview yesterday afternoon.
It’s that mindset that’s keeping Geismar from worrying about the changes proposed by Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s announcement Tuesday evening that his budget plan for FY2012 includes the Rhode Island Department of Education’s (RIDE) new funding formula, a formula that at first glance appears to advocate for slashing $319,428 from the amount of state aid EWG gets.
“Well, my first gut reaction is that it shows us losing funds, which is never a good feeling for a superintendent,” Geismar said. “What I’m not sure about, is if every aspect of the funding formula is folded into the amount that I see is the recommended amount for our district.”
It’s those questions that prevent Geismar from fully forming an opinion on Chafee’s decision … at least for the time being.
Gov. Chafee’s spending plan for 2011-2012, which was unveiled Tuesday in an address to the General Assembly, calls for an increase of over $17 million in state aid to schools. The bulk of that money would go to selected suburban school district and many urban school districts, including Providence, which is projected to receive over $2 million more next year, and Cranston, which is slated to receive an additional $1.5 million, bringing those two districts’ total costs to $177 million and $32 million, respectively.
Regional school districts, meanwhile, are projected to be hit hardest. Chariho, for instance, is slated to receive 26.9 percent less state aid money than before, for a loss of $100,529.
And while Exeter’s loss is less than that, percentage-wise, the district is slated to receive $319,428 less than last year, for a 4.9 percent cut, something that worries Geismar significantly. Especially considering he just got his budget passed by the School Committee Tuesday night and that budget, which still has to be approved by voters in Exeter and West Greenwich, included just the bare-bones bottom-line items the district couldn’t do without.
“Well, yeah, I mean anytime you lose money it’s going to be hurtful,” Geismar said. “Anytime you lose, it hurts and we’ve got a lot of great things going on and we want to continue to have them going on.”
Geismar is quick to explain, however, that the district may not actually be out any money, at least for now.
While it’s true that the funding formula calls for EWG to receive money in state aid, a $32 million federal program meant to protect jobs in education might offset some of those costs for the district.
“We do have some federal jobs money that can help,” Geismar said. “I don’t think that’s rolled into that money which if I’m right and it’s not, the federal jobs money for next year would help offset the $300 and some thousand dollar cut.”
Geismar also points out that, as of right now, it’s unclear if the funding formula includes some “categorical funding for transportation for our district” and whether or not it includes a regional bonus as well.
“I need to nail that down to understand what the full effect is,” he said. “I’m hoping that with the jobs money, it will at the very least be on about a level with what we anticipated getting with the state. We just had our budget approved by our school committee last night and I’m hopeful that our budgeted amount, with the jobs money in it, would be comparable with what we budgeted for.”
Even if the federal money does offset the losses proposed by Chafee, Geismar knows that’s just a temporary solution, one the district will have to live without in the future.
“I don’t want us to lose any money,” Geismar said. “We’ve got so many good things going, we don’t want to lose resources that can help us continue to achieve.”
Exeter isn’t the only local district losing money under Chafee’s plan, either.
North Kingstown, which is still in the beginning stages of its budget process, is projected to lose $163,538 bringing the districts’ total amount of state aid from $10,344,125 to $10,180,587.
North Kingstown Superintendent Dr. Phillip Thornton was unavailable for comment yesterday afternoon.
For more information on how NK is reacting to the proposed cuts, pick up a copy of next week’s Standard Times.

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