NORTH KINGSTOWN - According to the North Kingstown Town Ordinance, the NK School Committee had to submit a budget to the Town Council by the end of Tuesday’s School Committee meeting. After lengthy discussions, the committee approved, five to two, a bottom line of $58,805,460. Committee members William Mudge and Joe Thompson cast the dissenting votes.
Tuesday morning, the budget sub-committee met and recommended the School Committee submit two budgets to the town, one with a zero percent increase and the other with 1.6 percent increase. Committee member Melvoid Benson, who’s also the chair of the budget sub-committee, said the purpose for the both budgets is to maintain a payable tax rate for the citizens of the town and to ensure all the aspects of the basic education plan (BEP) are followed.
However, according to School Committee lawyer Andrew Henneous, who sat in for the absent Maryann Carroll, the committee, by law, could only submit one budget to the Town Council.
Among some of the changes the sub-committee discussed for the two percent increased budget were decreasing merit pay from $35,000 to $15,000 and eliminating two elementary school teachers for a savings of $130,000. Members also agreed to keep in anything having to do with vocational technology training.
As for a zero percent increase budget, many of the adjustments that were made to the two percent increase budget remained the same. However, it was suggested to balance the cafeteria fund and to possibly use $64,000 from the school’s fund balance and the possibility of getting $400,000 in potential savings from the teacher’s contracts negotiations.
At the last committee meeting, Superintendent Dr. Philip Thornton presented a preliminary budget of $58,960,460, included in that figure was the elimination of two social workers.
“I have serious concerns with eliminating two social workers,” committee member Larry Ceresi said. “We’ve seen behavioral issues come before this committee and unfortunately, the need for those workers are still there.”
The bottom line figure that was unanimously approved included adding back in one social worker, at the request of Ceresi.
The committee also unanimously approved a motion to send a cover letter to the Town Council with the School Committee’s recommended cuts to get to a zero percent increase budget, a letter Thornton is currently working on.
Some areas of reduction include eliminating general education bus services for a savings of $200,000 and removing extracurricular activities that would still meet the BEP, for a savings of $654,673.
“When I look at the list of cuts to get to a zero increase, I’m finding it so unfair and narrowly worded,” Benson said. “We can reach a zero other ways.”
Thompson agreed with Benson in that other areas to save money haven’t been looked into. He stated there was no thought regarding consolidation that he saw in the list of possible reductions. He also feels that the proposed budget doesn’t address the Jamestown tuition issue and feels the list was “carefully selected.”
“While running for this office, I asked residents ‘Do you want your taxes reduced?’ and they all said yes,” Thompson said. “I then asked them if they understood that if they want their taxes reduced, spending has to be cut. For those of you who ran this year and told taxpayers of this town that we’re going to lover their taxes, this is the night at which that promise needs to be enacted.”
Thompson further stated that the only budget that would decrease taxes would be to go with a negative two percent increase or a bottom line of $57,223,326.
Committee member Lynda Avanzato called the budget process a “two-sided equation” and said that if the school department has to decrease their expenditures, it’s only fair that the town has to look into reducing theirs as well.
“We’re spending less than what we spent in 2008,” Avanzato said. “I challenge you to find another school district in the state that’s done that. Have we done everything possible? No, but when we make specific motions to cut things, these halls are flooded with people. And, yes, there are still areas we need to explore.”