RICHMOND — Local residents of the Chariho Regional School District had the opportunity to voice their opinions and ask questions regarding the proposed school system’s budget last night.
Chariho Middle School’s auditorium was packed with district residents, who voiced their concerns about the next year’s fiscal budget. There were over 25 registered voters from each community, including Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton, present at the hearing.
The total proposed budget is $57.6 million, a 1.67 percent increase from last year. This budget includes finances for salaries, benefits, services, materials and other projects.
“We’ve worked hard to come up with a budget that’s fair,” said Michelle Cole, chair of the Chariho School Committee.
One of the most prominent concerns was how the recent sequestration of the national budget will impact the local budget.
“If sequestration stays in place, there will be a $20,000 negative impact on the next fiscal year and a 3 percent reduction for federal funds,” said Superintendent Barry Ricci. “But everything is hypothetical, it’s a guessing game at this point.”
“We are not sure of the full impact the sequestration will have,” said Brian Stanley, director of administration. “But I suspect we will have a surplus.”
Funding was also discussed, but Stanley explained why the committee was not yet able to give definitive answers on the topic.
“That’s a difficult question,” said Stanley, “We’re told by the state of Rhode Island, not necessarily in a dollar amount, but we get told what the employer contribution rate will be. It’s not something Chariho has control over. Funds go to the state and Chariho gets told a percentage of what the contribution rate has to be.”
Another major concern for many residents in each districts was the overall decline in general student enrollment.
“Enrollment has been going down for some time, statewide,” said Sylvia Thompson, vice president of Hopkinton Town Council, “I wanted to point out that at this point we are now less than 50 students away from the enrollment total in 1983, when the budget was around $6 million. Things have changed, but we are going back and back.”
Superintendent Ricci mentioned that even though the number of teachers has decreased, there are other costs that add up because of the smaller size of the district. He also explained that the surplus funds don’t stay in the district.
A final decision on adopting the budget will be made March 12 at 6 p.m., in the Chariho High School library. Once a decision is made, local town councils will vote on the budget.