kgravelle@ricentral.com

COVENTRY — During a budget workshop last Thursday night, the Coventry School Committee took a look at the projected school district budget for the upcoming fiscal year before the document is due to the town manager next month. 

The fiscal year 2021 budget presented to the school committee would require an increase in local appropriations of $1.8 million, which Finance Director Sarah Mangiarelli said would result in a 2.6 percent tax levy increase. 

The budget asks for no additional funding for capital improvements. 

A projected $720,000 reduction in state aid funding plays a significant factor in the need for more local funding, Mangiarelli said, although the state aid amount could change. 

Contractual obligations, meanwhile, will require a $992,000 increase in the coming fiscal year, while benefit costs will jump by around $382,000. Mangiarelli said she’s projected an increase of $198,000 in transportation costs, as well, and anticipates needing an additional $153,000 to cover the deferred purchases of equipment and furniture.

Mangiarelli said she also expects out-of-district tuition to increase by $256,000 — an increase that she suggested could have been avoided by investing in school programming. 

In 2010, the district spent $120,000 on tuition for Coventry students attending programs outside the district. Just 10 years later, that number has risen to a projected $1.4 million. 

“I would really love to see money being reinvested back into our community to build those programs [at the career and technical center] up,” Mangiarelli said. 

Mangiarelli also pointed out that between 2010 and 2020, the district’s benefit costs have risen from $12.5 million to $16.8 million, without any additional benefits. 

“It is tough to keep up with that expenditure increase,” she said, “but it is certainly not for a lack of trying or proper investment.”

With new regulations now in effect that have shifted power from Rhode Island school committees to school administrators, Superintendent Craig Levis noted as Thursday’s meeting got underway that the fiscal year 2021 budget was prepared with significant input from building principals. 

“I want to acknowledge all the work that our administrators, working with their teacher leaders, have put into this budget,” Levis said, adding that the budget also focuses more on student performance than have others in recent years. 

“Despite all the challenges we face, and we still face many challenges, I think you’ll see that the items in this budget are really focused on improving student performance, which means supporting our direct line, which are our teachers and support staff,” he continued. 

The presented budget features both a “principal” column, including most of the requests of each principal, and a column recommended by Mangiarelli. 

Each principal was asked in building his or her school budget to come up with goals, Mangiarelli said. Goals identified included emphasizing social-emotional learning; continuing to promote the vision of the graduate; making improvements to the math, writing and reading skills of all students; increasing test scores; ensuring inclusion of all students; and ensuring equitable access of supplies and equipment.

School committee members were also given a list of principals’ staffing requests, none of which have been added yet into the budget. 

“We, as an administrative team, still need to go through and decide if any of those [staffing requests] are truly required to continue moving our district forward,” Mangiarelli said. 

Mangiarelli also shared Thursday a number of cost-saving steps that the district is taking. The schools and the town are currently working together with a consultant to explore renewable energy options that could save on energy costs town wide, for example.

A detailed school budget is due to the town on Feb. 14. A number of budget meetings will follow, leading to the financial town meeting on May 12. 

Mangiarelli spoke optimistically about the collaboration this budget cycle between the school district and the town, adding that it will be crucial for the two to “go out publicly with one voice.”

“This is a community budget,” she added. 

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