COVENTRY — With another all-day budget referendum only a couple of months away, the Coventry School Committee voted last week to approve a preliminary budget for Fiscal Year 2021 of $74.5 million, including nearly $49 million from local appropriations.

Coventry’s school district is currently projecting a deficit of around $1.3 million for the upcoming fiscal year, even with the 4 percent increase in local appropriations included in the draft budget approved last Thursday. 

School administrators have been busy combing through their proposed budgets to identify line items where cuts could be made, Finance Director Sarah Mangiarelli said, adding that building principals will continue to refine their requests as the budget process moves forward.

“So this is still definitely a fluid document,” Mangiarelli told school committee members during their meeting. “We do anticipate ongoing reductions and adjustments.”

Increases in contractual obligations and benefit costs are among the biggest drivers in a projected 2 percent increase in the district’s operating budget. The district also anticipates, based on current enrollment, a $723,000 state aid reduction over last year, although Mangiarelli noted that that’s nearly $60,000 less of a reduction than had been initially anticipated. 

“It’s trending in the right direction, but still definitely not what we wanted to see this year,” she said. 

School Committee Member Luke Murray said it’s important for taxpayers to understand that despite its request for a 4 percent local appropriation increase, the district is faced with having to shave a significant amount from its budget.

“Even though we’re requesting more money on the levy, the schools are still actively working to drive down this budget by over a million dollars,” Murray said. “I think that’s an important point.”

With new state regulations requiring that more power be given to school principals, School Committee Chair Katherine Patenaude lauded their efforts to whittle down their budgets.

“I really appreciate everybody having a hand in this and being willing to look at their budgets and figure out where they could possibly cut,” she said. “I realize that all the needs that people really want can’t be met, and I trust that the cuts that have been made already to bring it to this are the best for our district and for our students.” 

Superintendent Craig Levis shared similar sentiments, adding that the decisions being made districtwide are “laser focused on what’s in the best interest of students.”

“There’s a lot of places where we have anticipated we’ll have to make reductions, in terms of our expenditures,” Levis continued, “but this truly has been, and will be, a community effort.”

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