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School budget season opens at $33 million

February 21, 2011

Let the debating begin.

The School Committee offered the public its first look Tuesday night at a fiscal 2012 budget proposal that calls for a 3.86 percent increase over the current year’s budget.
Superintendent Victor Mercurio proposed a $33,038,352 budget, an increase of $1,227,275 from the 2010-11 figure, after receiving budget requests from school administrators and department heads in workshop sessions over the past two weeks.

The budget will receive further consideration at the School Committee’s March 1 meeting and in a joint session with the Town Council March 7. A final budget must be presented to Town Manager William Sequino Jr. by March 15.
Mercurio and Finance Manager Mary Ann Crawford said changing projections of state educational aid may have to be factored into the final figures.
“The budget process is not unlike painting a car that’s moving,” said Mercurio.
The number Mercurio delivered Tuesday represented a $254,000 decrease from the results of the workshops, with a reduction in requested positions and a cut in the money budgeted for health insurance.
Two positions were cut, leaving a total of 3.3 new positions in the budget. Full-time position requests for a behavior specialist at East Greenwich High School and a reading specialist at Cole Middle School were each cut to a 0.5 position, and a technology position was also cut. Requests for a Grade 3 teacher at Frenchtown Elementary School and 1.3 districtwide itinerant teachers remain,.
Paula Dillon, director of student services, said the number of students on Individual Education Plans has not changed over the past year, but as a whole, they require more services.
The requested figure for an increase in health insurance costs was cut in half, to $109,000, after Crawford revised a projected 7 percent rate increase to 3.5 percent.
Much of the budget increase stems from increased teacher salaries ($527,732) and retirement plan contributions ($287,588).
Mercurio said he would take another look at the need for an additional technical assistant in light of the planned retirement of Jerry Nettick, the district’s technology director for 10 years.
“The job Mr. Nettick was hired for 10 years ago was much different from the job that exists now,” said Mercurio, adding that he will look into a partnership with New England Institute of Technology. One possibility, he said, was bringing New England Tech students in to help with technological issues.
Crawford said state aid to the school district could rise $125,000, to $1.4 million, if the funding formula created by the General Assembly last year is implemented in this session. If not, she warned of a possible 3 to 5 percent cut in state aid.
School Committee Chairwoman Deidre Gifford anticipated a difficult budget season, considering the state-mandated 4.25 percent maximum increase in the municipal budget.
“We known the town decreased its budget last year, and will probably be increasing it this year,” she said.
While the process of moving sixth graders from the elementary schools into the new Cole Middle School has had consequences on this year’s budget, Mercurio anticipated more next year from a possible reconfiguration of the four elementary schools. He said he would request that the School Committee create a subcommittee on grade reconfiguration and deliver a report in September.

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