The Westerly Sun

WOOD RIVER JCT. — The Chariho School Committee failed to adopt the proposed 2020-21 schools budget Tuesday, instead voting on a series of cuts that totaled nearly a million dollars.

Voicing regret and concern about the impacts the cuts might have in years to come, members whittled down the spending plan by $841,261, bringing the total of the proposed spending plan to just under $54 million. 

In announcing the cuts, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Jane Daly said they had not been made easily.

“None of these cuts are easy,” she said. “None of these cuts are going to allow us to really give the type of service we give now, but, being challenged to make these cuts, this is what we came up with.”

The contributions of the three towns will still rise. Hopkinton will now pay 4.6% more, Richmond 2.1% more and Charlestown an additional 0.7%.

Observing the meeting were Hopkinton Town Council President Frank Landolfi, Richmond Town Council President Richard Nassaney, Hopkinton Town Councilor Sharon Davis and Charlestown Town Council Vice President Deborah Carney.

Citing a proposed property tax increase and an increase in the tax levy that would exceed the 4 percent cap set by the state, Landolfi had demanded $1.3 million in reductions.

Nassaney, who has echoed the opinion that the the towns can no longer support the burgeoning schools budget, has also focused on finding ways to amend the Chariho Act, which determines the Chariho funding formula.

One by one, the proposed reductions were read by committee members and then voted on. The largest reduction took a bite out of the yearly money allocated to the fund balance, or surplus, which is currently 3%, and is recommended to stay between 2% and 4% of the total budget. With a lower contribution, the fund balance will slip to 2.8%.

Daly said the health care budget, one of the district’s most significant expenses, had been reduced by $72,000.

“We could reduce by 1.5%,” she said. “So we were predicting an 8% increase, now what we would do overall would be a 6.5% increase, so that reduction totals $72,000, and we do feel comfortable with that.”

Daly said the remaining reductions had been proposed after consultations with the district’s leadership team and each school principal.

Those include eliminating kindergarten at Charlestown school because of low enrollment, saving $78,000. High school and middle school field trips would be eliminated, saving $42,000, but members voted against canceling the districtwide annual Artessy arts and STEM festival, which would have saved the district less than $5,000.

There will also be reductions in teaching, support and custodial positions.

Donna Chambers of Charlestown balked at eliminating one elementary world language teacher.

“This is painful,” she said. “One of the  things that we’ve always said, all of the budget hearings that I’ve ever participated on in this district, has been you don’t want to cut programs. You don’t want to hurt staff. You don’t want to hurt the momentum that we’ve been working on for so long, and to me, this is just watering down our programs.”

Hopkinton member Lisa Macaruso said she took comfort in the fact that the entire program was not being cut.

“As an educator, I, too, struggle with this decision,” she said. “What I am finding resolve in is that we are not eliminating the program or eliminating world language from any student. It’s a reduction in service. The teachers will have to restructure … there will be no student that does not receive world language as a result of this cut.”

The committee did not adopt the budget. There will be further discussions, and likely more cuts, at the Feb. 25 School Committee meeting and the public budget hearing on March 3.


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