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NORTH KINGSTOWNâ€”Voters from North Kingstown will take to the polls today for a special budget referendum to decide whether or not to increase the amount of money allocated to the School Department by $500,000 and, while the question seems simple enough, the impact of that decision is much more complicated.
On the surface, it seems that the approval of the additional funds would eliminate most of the $778,500 in cuts made by Superintendent Dr. Phillip Thornton over the past two months but, according to Thornton, thatâ€™s simply not the case.
â€śIf it passes, I would go to the school committee on June 14th and, of all the things we had worked on, two things stand out that I would want to have them reconsider,â€ť Thornton said Tuesday afternoon. â€śOne would be the [removal of a proposed additional] social worker because itâ€™s been a reoccurring need. Iâ€™d bring that back and also the sports cut of $30,000. Iâ€™d like to consider bringing that back.â€ť
Those two potential reinstatements would represent a total of $107,500 of the additional $500,000 approved by voters. The rest, Thornton said, should be used to offset the $1.1 million the school department is taking out of its fund surplus for the 2012 budget.
â€śGiven the other uncertaintiesâ€”pension, health care, things are changingâ€”I would recommend that if we get that funding, have the rest in reserve for the fall when things are happening in Rhode Island.â€ť
The decision to set aside most of the potential new money approved by voters is one that doesnâ€™t sit well with town officialsâ€”both town manager Michael Embury and the town council itself have publicly opposed the referendumâ€”and even caused school committee member Melvoid Benson to question whether or not it violated the intent of the referendum at the school committeeâ€™s budget subcommittee meeting Tuesday afternoon.
According to Thornton, however, the move is in the school departmentâ€™s best interest going forward.
â€śItâ€™s not about one year at a time, itâ€™s multiple years,â€ť he said. â€śHealth and pension alone this past year is over a million new dollars so we need to keep staying ahead of this.â€ť
Thornton also stressed Tuesday that he felt part of the reason the petition was put forth was to potentially eliminate the districtâ€™s decision to consider looking into outsourcing custodial and food service workers and to change school clerk positions from a full year to 10 months.
But, all of those moves arenâ€™t on the table for this year. Those, he said, are items the department is looking into for future fiscal years.
The impact the approval of the referendum would have on the town side, meanwhile, is still up in the air.
According to Embury, if voters approve the additional funds for the school department today, the town council has two options. First, it can vote to simply increase the amount of taxes generated by the town. Under this scenario, Embury says, the tax rate would increase approximately $0.15 to $17.46.
The second scenario involves the council directing Embury to make an additional $500,000 in cuts and, while Embury wouldnâ€™t directly say what is on the chopping block should he be directed to make that call, he has come up with a tentative plan should the situation play out that way.
â€śThat would be disappointing only because weâ€™re down pretty low,â€ť Embury said. â€śWeâ€™re lower for 2012 than we are for 2011. Weâ€™ll have to see what happens.â€ť
Either way, Embury and Thornton will be watching tonight.
â€śI want to see what the voters direct us to do,â€ť Embury said. â€śIf the voters want the half million dollars added then itâ€™s my responsibility to lay out what the options are for the council and then theyâ€™ll make that decision as the policy makers. I would not like to cut another half million dollars out of a budget thatâ€™s less for fiscal â€™12 than we had in fiscal â€™11.â€ť
Todayâ€™s referendum vote will take place at Davisville Middle School and Cold Spring Community Center. Polls will be open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
A separate petition that sought to reduce the school budget by $1.6 million failed to get enough votes in time for last weekâ€™s deadline.
For more information, visit North Kingstownâ€™s website at www.northkingstown.org.