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RIDE offers suggestions to reduce deficit

December 19, 2011

By LINDSAY OLIVIER
lolivier@ricentral.com

NORTH KINGSTOWN – Personell from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) presented to the school committee Tuesday evening on ways the school district can improve their budget.
The school district’s current fiscal year has been hindered by two difficult challenges. The first being the revenues have come in lower than expected and expenses have exceeded the budget in key areas.
Currently, the total revenue shortfall is $712,000, which includes the state aid being adjusted after the initial budget was formulated in January. The decline in Jamestown students and Medicaid is lower due to both reimbursements rates from the federal government and fewer out of district placements.
Cindy Brown from RIDE offered the committee a few suggestions to help with the deficit, starting with out-of-district transportation. This program includes transportation of out-of-district special education students and private schools such as The Prout School and Bishop Hendricken High School.
“Currently, 3,500 students are being transportated on these buses to over 200 hundred schools sites,” said Brown. “Rather than send 15 to 16 busses to the same location, we're only sending a handful and those buses are full.”
The state is beginning to assume some of the cost and so far in this current fiscal year, the program has saved over $1.1 million.
“This is an opportunity for you to save money,” added Brown. “I encourage you to look into this program. A few districts that were skeptical in the beginning are now giving us rave reviews.”
Neighboring district South Kingstown has been using out-of-district transportation and has been very pleased with it.
The North Kingstown school district currently has in-house food services program, but Brown suggessted looking the state-wide food program. She said it relieves the burden at the local level such as, eliminating the bidding process. Since the implemenation of the state-wide system, over $2.7 million in fees to districts has been saved.
Brown understands the district has labor issues and that there's ways to work with that.
What specifically contributed to the increase in expenses are the benefits for NK-ESP continuing to be provided under their prior contract. Additionally, a four-percent health insurance co-pay versus the 20-percent co-pay, buybacks, part-time health care coverage and cafeteria fund expenses.
In the revenue section of the deficit reduction plan, a suggested request would be made to the town for a supplemental appropriation of $712,620 to help meet the budget of $58,092,043. Additionally, utilizing $300,000 of fund balance for planned fiscal year 2012 positions and utilize $64,470 of fund balance for the cafeteria. If those amounts are taken from the fund balance it’ll leave $457,000 available.
As for the expense side, the plan calls for moving Fishing Cove Americans with Disabilities Act expense to unspent $2 million bonds, freeze certain expenses, outsource custodial and cafeteria services, utilize state transportation plan for out of district busing and reduce educational positions and programs.
It states in the plan that each revenue dollar not covered by the town will result in expenses that must be cut to avoid a deficit.
For the district to avoid a devicit the plan strongly suggests moving the Fishing Cove Playground expense to a bond source and implemenating a spending freeze.
The committee didn't vote on any of the suggestions regarding out of district transportation and food services. Further discussion will be continued at the next school committee meeting.

Source 
Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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