Budget calls for 3.39% increase in local appropriation; joint budget work session scheduled for next week
COVENTRY — With its final budget request due to the town this Friday, the Coventry School Committee voted unanimously last week to approve a budget for the 2024 fiscal year that the superintendent has said he hopes will be good for Coventry Public Schools as well as the community at large.
The $79.7 million budget aims to close the achievement gaps that widened during the pandemic, according to Supt. Don Cowart’s budget summary, while maintaining services necessary “to promote high academic achievement” and increasing investments in several critical areas.
With some 60 percent of its annual revenue coming from local property taxes, the school district’s proposed Fiscal Year 2024 budget calls for a local appropriation increase of 3.39 percent — slightly less than the 3.55 percent increase that had initially been included in the budget.
“Through this budget process, with your feedback, with our analysis and checking our own work, we’ve found places where we can make adjustments,” Cowart told committee members during their March 9 meeting.
By sifting line-by-line through the budget, Cowart said, district administrators were able to shave a little more than $300,000 from the expenditures that had originally been projected for the upcoming fiscal year.
“I’m pretty proud that we were able to get that accomplished,” he said. “That’s a pretty significant savings that doesn’t necessarily hit any programs or any staffing.”
Since the district could be faced next year with some unexpected expenses, he added that he “[doesn’t] think we can go much lower than that.”
Cowart included in his budget presentation to the school committee a list of capital projects — things like a roof replacement at the middle school, fire alarm upgrades and various other district-wide improvements — along with how urgently each is needed.
While some of those projects are projected to be paid for with capital improvement funds, others would be covered by a proposed bond that would also fund the construction of a brand new elementary school and would require voter approval.
“The bad news is if for some reason we don’t move
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forward with the bond, beyond just a nice new school, we have a lot of issues that would have to be addressed that we’re going to need significant funding for,” Cowart said.
The budget adopted Thursday by the school committee does include a $1.17 million boost in state aid, but it also features unavoidable expenditure increases in areas like employee salaries and benefits.
The town council and school committee are scheduled to meet in the Council Chambers next week for a budget work session, before the council ultimately votes in May on a municipal budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
After Coventry residents voted during the 2022 General Election to change how the town determines its annual budget, the process of the budget's adoption will look different this year than it has in years past.
Coventry’s budget has previously been determined by voters during an annual all-day referendum. In some cases, after voters failed to approve the budget presented to them, that's led to multiple referendums, and in 2021 even resulted in the town being level funded.
Typically, only a small fraction of Coventry’s residents have participated in budget referendums — last May, the first Fiscal Year 2023 budget presented to voters was rejected by fewer than 100 votes after only 1,536 of approximately 26,000 registered voters cast ballots; an alternate budget was later approved by a margin of 1,539 to 1,216.
But this year, there may not be a referendum at all.
On May 23, following a series of budget hearings, the town council will vote on a Fiscal Year 2024 municipal budget. If a supermajority — four of the five councilors — vote in favor, then that budget will be adopted. If not, then an alternate budget will be developed.
A budget referendum will only take place if the council fails for a second time to approve a budget by supermajority. In that case, voters will choose between two budgets on June 22.
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