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Positive changes to SK budget

March 19, 2012

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – For FY 2013 the school committee has requested a property tax transfer of only 0.3 percent to support its $58.2 million budget.

The budget is down since the school committee first adopted it in January. The original budget was $58.8 million with a 1.6 percent tax transfer.

“Since the South Kingstown School Department budget projections are made in the fall, recent trending in various budget lines has allowed us to make some positive changes,” Superintendent Dr. Kristen Stringfellow said.

Those changes include a $560,000 reduction in expenses and an additional $39,500 in tuition revenue.

Next year’s budget assumes a teacher wage freeze for three years with health care co-pays up to 20 percent, a utility increase of five percent, a zero percent increase to health and dental insurance and $250,000 in turnover allowance with five percent of teachers eligible for retirement.

The school committee assumes the $375,000 in the group home aid and $427,000 in the jobs fund program will be restored. In the third year of the funding formula, state aid is projected to reduce $320,550.

Town Manager Stephen Alfred cautioned that with Governor Lincoln Chafee’s budget still up in the air, the school committee had to be aware that the numbers may change. In January, Chafee proposed to dedicate the $39.5 million generated from a two percent increase in the meals tax to education aid. This would result in an additional $21.6 million for all 36 school districts and an advance payment of $11.5 million to underfunded communities expecting increased aid through the funding formula. Under this new proposal, South Kingstown expects to receive $216,769 more.

Alfred said he doubts the two percent hike in the meals tax will pass.
“If [the General Assembly] doesn’t come up with the meals tax, they are going to come up with alternative funding sources,” Alfred said. “We’re not going to know until after June 1 whether the governor’s budget will vary with the General Assembly or whether there will be substantial changes.”

With school districts like Woonsocket in debt, Councilman James O’Neill worried that “the General Assembly will have no choice but to accelerate those funds to cities and towns who need it and accelerate those who will lose.”

Other factors that may impact the school budget are the $427,000 jobs fund program and the $375,000 group home aid. The school committee included the figures in the budget, but those funds may be altered depending on the federal level.

At a Jan. 17 budget work session, the school committee approved two new administrative positions - a behavioral specialist for elementary grades and a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) coordinator to assist in evaluations.

Last month the school committee also approved moving the pre-school program from Hazard School to South Road School rather than moving it to Peace Dale Elementary School as originally proposed.
“I ask you to rescind those two specialists for a year and rescind the pre-school move to South Road,” O’Neill said.

Director of Business Administration John Ritchotte explained that South Road produces the most savings. If the pre-school moved to Peace Dale Elementary School, Ritchotte said the change will require $68,000 in expenses targeted for air conditioning in addition to new playground installation and plumbing. He said the transfer to Peace Dale would only be a temporary move.

If the school moved to South Road School, Ritchotte said, “our work is slightly less costly and only includes air conditioning and fencing of the existing playground.”

Stringfellow said the move to South Road is “not an ‘if’ situation.”
Through Uniform Chart of Accounts, a new data system to compare school districts, Stringfellow said the school department determines their spending in relation to the state average. Using that data, the school committee determines where to make cuts, which may not necessarily be the two new specialists as O’Neill hopes.

“In addition to looking at what we can afford, we look at through a lenses of what are students need,” Maureen Cotter, school committee chairperson said.

In February, the school committee fired three untenured teachers. Those positions will be maintained. Stringfellow said the school district has no plans to reduce any positions except through class size and student course choice.

Alfred said the results of court challenges to the new state pension system may impact the budget as well. Under the new system, the state expects $16 million from school teacher contributions statewide.
“There needs to be more support within the court system to say benefits can be changed,” Alfred said.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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