By LINDSAY OLIVIER
NORTH KINGSTOWN – In the beginning of the year, the North Kingstown town council and school committee signed a consent agreement as a way to control the school district’s spending because of an anticipated deficit. Within that agreement, an independent auditor was tasked with identifying areas in which cost savings could be achieved.
The results are in and the school district is pleased with the findings.
The certified public accounting firm of Nadeau Wadovick, LLP, of Warwick, conducted the Accelerated School Budget Examination and Basic Education Program (BEP) Compliance Review of the approved school budget for fiscal year 2011/2012 to determine the cause and need of a forecasted deficit. The Feb. 13 document wasn’t an audit, per se, but rather an “expression of an opinion on the school department’s accounting records.”
Personnel from Nadeau Wadovick met with Town Manager Michael Embury, Town Finance Director Trish Sunderland, Superintendent Dr. Philip Auger, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Michele Humbryd, Director of Special Education/Pupil Personnel Rachel Santa and Director of Administrative Services Ned Draper.
Among the documents and data examined included the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Board of Regents’ Basic Education Program (BEP) regulations, the superintendent’s estimated budget requirements and allocation of funds for programs and services, including elementary and secondary instructional program offerings, student activities programs, interscholastic athletic programs and enrichment programs that exceed BEP regulations.
The key line in the report, that Auger feels sums everything up states that the minimum amount of funding Nadeau Wadovick consider to be a reasonable a planning estimate required to keep the district in full compliance with the BEP, as it moves forward during the next to three years totals $2,099,602.
“That right there validates everything I’ve been trying to say, in that we need more funding,” Auger said. “We’re not asking for all these extra things, just enough to comply with the BEP and beef up those services.”
The report indicated that tough times are ahead for the school department and the town and changes in the new BEP, which will require additional school mandates with no sources of revenue, will “plague” both sides.
The deficit within the school lunch program, which has been a point of contention for years, is mentioned in detail in the report, which says that if the program continues to lose money and shows no sign of being able to break even, the school department needs to consider outsourcing the service to an organization with specific expertise in running a school lunch operation.
The report suggested that the school district look into outsourcing its large bus transportation system and its custodial services.
“The North Kingstown School Department remains one of the last Rhode Island school districts that have not implemented those cost savings,”it said.
The report cautioned that the school department has not been following Title 16 of the Rhode Island General Laws, which explains the duties and responsibilities of the superintendent and school committee and says that once a budget deficit has been identified, formal written notification of the deficits needs to be prepared.
According to the report, that wasn’t done as the first indication of a potential school deficit was indicated on the school’s November 2011 Auditor General Budget summary. Nadeau Wadovick reviewed each monthly report and noted that there were no sign of budget issues.
Some other recommendations made in the report include the addition of reading and math specialists based on the needs of the students. The school district currently has two social workers that service over 4,500 students. The report recommends adding three more workers for a total cost of $187,500.
Auger says he agrees with a good deal of the recommendations, but wonders about the year-to-year budget recommendations outlined, especially how it relates to state aid. In all, though, he is happy with the outcome.
The complete 24 page report is available on the school department’s website, www.nksd.net  and Auger will give a detailed presentation on it at the April 24 school committee meeting.