WOOD RIVER JCT. — Meeting remotely Tuesday, members of the Chariho School Committee adopted the 2020-21 schools budget and set a June 30 date for the budget referendum. They also discussed the state’s plan to reopen schools and what the new coronavirus protocols might cost the school district.

The budget and the vote

Chariho’s $53.5 million spending plan is a 1.95% increase over the current budget, and revenue is down. The committee heard from Director of Finance Susan Rogers that the state has withheld the transportation categorical aid payment in May and is not expected to make a June payment, either.

“We sent an email to our representatives and senators and they are working on it, but we don’t know if this will be reinstated,” she said.

The district was expecting to receive $1.7 million in transportation aid in the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30. The May and June payments total $305,000.

Rogers warned that in the 2021 fiscal year, financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is also likely to cut into or eliminate aid for Chariho Tech.

“We receive the aid in the summertime, so we already have the aid for FY [fiscal year] ‘20. We’re safe,” she said. “There is no guarantee that we’re going to get that aid come this summer for the FY ‘21 year.”

Rogers noted that she had withheld $1,871,783, which, after deducting the $305,000 in lost transportation aid, totals $1,566,000. 

“We have no idea what the state aid is going to look like for next year,” she said. “This could help offset that. We also don’t have any idea what transportation is going to look like next year or the PPE that we’re going to need or additional classroom space, so my opinion is to hold it and save it and use it if it’s necessary.”

The committee’s Tuesday vote to adopt the budget follows the adoption of the spending plan on March 17, however, the pandemic delayed the budget vote, which must take place 30 days following the adoption of the budget, so the adoption had to take place a second time.

There was also a lengthy discussion of the June 30 referendum and whether Hopkinton’s Chariho budget vote, which took place on June 9, would be considered as part of the referendum.

The Chariho Act requires that all three towns vote on the budget on the same day, but citing a tight timeline to set its tax rate for the new fiscal year beginning on July 1, Hopkinton held its own vote, with residents approving the Chariho budget, 201 to 177. Richmond and Charlestown residents will vote on June 30.

Hopkinton committee members Catherine Giusti, George Abbott and David Stahl asked whether the committee could find a way to count the Hopkinton votes, but Chariho attorney Jon Anderson said the district was legally bound to follow the Chariho Act, which does not contain provisions for towns to hold budget referendums on different days.

“The committee has made it clear that they want to follow the Chariho Act and we are following that process and if the Town of Hopkinton doesn’t follow that process, we will cross that bridge when it comes,” he said.

The committee voted to hold the Chariho budget referendum on June 30.

Summer plans and school reopening

Interim Superintendent of Schools Jane Daly briefed committee members on the district’s plans to begin reintroducing athletics on June 18 and reopen schools for in-person learning on Aug. 31. 

There are three reopening plans proposed by the Rhode Island Department of Education, which is expected to release its safety guidelines for reopening on Friday.

“One set of plans would be 100% of students returned,” Daly said. “The next would be limited return, and the last would be more restrictive. Let’s say there was an outbreak and we had to close a school and we wouldn’t be able to return that building.”

RIDE will issue a final planning framework with reopening guidelines for school districts on June 24. The districts must submit their own reopening plans to RIDE by July 17.

Whether Chariho implements a full reopening or a hybrid plan incorporating distance learning, Daly warned that school will look and feel very different in September.

“It’s not going to look the same,” she said. “So things that we have to think about as we start to think about developing those plans, and I think that the summer sports plan was a good introduction to it for you, is that we’ll have maximum group sizes.”

Students will be learning in smaller groups, and will probably have to remain with those groups, referred to as “stable pods.” There will be no more crowds of students in lunchrooms or in the hallways. 

The biggest issue, however, will be school buses. There will not be nearly enough buses or staff to transport students at the required lower density per bus.

Daly said the issue could be mitigated if more parents drive their children to school.

“Maybe if they could drive kids to school, that’s going to help …. The other thing is, you do have to have them apart, but if they’re in the same family, they could certainly sit together. There’s a lot of consideration of things that have to be thought about,” she said.

The state has promised $42 million to assist school districts with the financial challenges of reopening, but Rogers said she did not expect much of that money to go to Chariho.

“The governor talks about — I think it’s $42 million that she’s distributing amongst the school districts. That’s money that we actually found out she was distributing a couple of months ago, and Chariho’s share is around $300,000 of that,” she said.

cdrummond@thewesterlysun.com

@cynthiadrummon4

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