Lower than expected health insurance costs allows lower ask 

SOUTH KINGSTOWN — The Budget Subcommittee met for a fourth time on Tuesday night to discuss the district’s property tax transfer request and historical full-time employee numbers.

Chief Financial Officer Maryanne Crawford was able to report that when the school committee goes before the town council to make a property tax transfer request, the ask will be slightly less than originally expected. 

Rather than asking for a 2.186 percent property tax transfer request, the school committee will be requesting 2 percent, she said, thanks to lower than expected health insurance costs.

This year’s budget, if accepted, will fully fund the CARES program, a non-profit volunteer organization that utilizes community resources to foster academic success within the school environment. It will also provide half of the funding for the SMILE program, which allows students to explore fun and challenging hands-on activities that integrate both science and math. 

Although the budget is a living document at this point in the season, Crawford does not anticipate any of the numbers to change drastically. 

“The numbers you see here may change slightly,” Crawford said. “I don’t anticipate these numbers changing substantially — we’re not hearing that.”

If there were going to be substantial changes to any of the federal grants the district is receiving, Crawford said, they would already know by now. Many expenses, such as food services and athletics, are expected to stay the same. 

The operating costs of the district went up by less than 1 percent, according to Crawford, who presented the subcommittee with a detailed budget, breaking down expenses and revenue. 

South Kingstown Town Council President Abel Collins suggested that the more information and detail the district is able to provide, the more informed of a decision council members will be able to make.

“I know that we could continue to give more and more information,” South Kingstown School District Superintendent Linda Savastano said, “but a big piece of the pie is staffing.”

The discussion of historical full-time employees often comes up during the budget season, Savanstano acknowledged, despite this being her first budget season in South Kingstown. To help bring some data into the conversation, the district will be providing yearly staffing numbers going back to the 2002-2003 school year.

In 2002, South Kingstown employed 620.6 full-time employees, which over the past 18 years, has dropped down by 176 employees. Last year the district had to cut 35.8 full-time employees during the budgeting season.

One thing Collins suggested to Savastano and Crawford was including percentage reductions in their spreadsheets, since “there’s a persistent idea out there that staffing has not declined commensurate with the student population,” he said.

One thing the district will not be able to provide Collins with is a new breakdown of per-pupil costs. Although there’s been much discussion of this between members of the subcommittee, given that it’s another topic also frequently mentioned during the budget season, the most current, official numbers the Rhode Island Department of Education has are from two years ago.

While the district can attempt to break down these numbers and give the town council a snapshot of how high expenses like transportation play into this, these numbers would not be official, Savastano said. It would also be difficult to compare to other districts.

She’d rather rely on official data than have administrators attempt their own.

 “I’m afraid to kind of skew them,” she said. “While I get that it’s two years old, at least it’s official.”

Curtis Corner Middle School Principal Patricia Aull was also in favor of this approach, not wanting the district “to speak to a number that you can’t justify or defend.”

 

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