kgravelle@ricentral.com

COVENTRY — Faced with the task of making drastic budget cuts since voters last week rejected the town’s proposed budget, Coventry Superintendent Craig Levis said this week that more than 500 layoff notices have been sent to teachers and support staff members districtwide.

In a letter sent Friday to residents, Levis wrote that “due to the voters’ decision to vote down the FY 2020 budget, Coventry Public Schools has no choice but to make drastic reductions in our educational programs.”

“The reason we’re doing all this is because it gives us flexibility. If we get level funded, we have to come up with a really challenging plan,” Levis said Tuesday, adding he’s in disbelief that fewer than 800 residents voted to support the town’s proposed budget. 

“The irony is that we said we weren’t going to use scare tactics,” he continued. “Well this is not a scare tactic—this is just the reality of having a level-funded budget.”

While the new fiscal year doesn’t begin until July, layoff notices legally must be sent before June 1. 

In total, Levis said, more than 380 teachers across the Coventry School District and more than 120 support personnel have received layoff notices, based per state law on seniority. He added in his letter that “we have every intent to recall as many teachers as possible” once a new high school schedule has been established.

When the district last year had to cut $1.4 million from its budget, it ultimately resulted in the elimination of 21.6 positions.  

“There’s no way we can run smoothly with this few people,” Levis said Tuesday. “This has decimated the school district. It’s just—it’s devastating.”

Levis had made several warnings in the months preceding the referendum regarding the “devastating” effects a rejection of the budget could have. 

The $108.4 million proposed FY20 budget that was turned down last week included a $1.46 million increase in funding to the school district.

The majority of the school district’s proposed $73.75 million budget would have been used to cover unavoidable expenditure increases, including an approximately $680,000 bump in healthcare, $650,000 in contractual step increases, and $1.15 million in contractual personnel increases. 

“We were adamant that this is what we need to continue to maintain the level of services,” Levis said. “And the town [cut the initial proposed school district budget] by $100,000, and we could live with that, but then the community shut it down.”

Many of the concerns raised by voters during last week’s financial town meeting focused on the increase on the school side and the proposed 3.38 percent tax rate increase. 

“I haven’t seen one year that the taxes have gone down,” resident William Imondi said during the meeting, adding that he’s concerned over how much teachers in the district are paid. 

“It’s fine for you people all up there that are making good money,” he continued. “But how about all the senior citizens that only get social security every month? Where are they supposed to come up with all this money to pay their taxes?”

Levis said last week that it’s untrue that Coventry teachers are the highest paid in the state. He said that on average teachers in the district make around $2,000 more than the state average. 

“Our teachers are the greatest resource we have,” Levis added. “The most significant people in my life have been educators.”

Levis said in the letter sent Friday that in the event that the district does get level funded, in addition to layoffs, reductions will need to be made to sports, clubs and other after-school activities.  

“If it’s level funded, we can cut teachers, sports is on the line,” he said Tuesday, adding that he’s met with the athletic director to look at places where reductions would be likely. “It’s devastating. This community is going to be devastated.”

He added that if the district ultimately is forced to level fund, he doesn’t foresee it rebounding for “many, many, many years.”

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