NORTH KINGSTOWN – On Tuesday, the North Kingstown School Committee and department officials discussed various COVID-19-related updates, touching on plans for an “alternative” graduation, the FY 2021 budget and the status of various departments, among other topics. 

Mary King, the chief operating officer, also acknowledged the school department’s physician consultant, who waived his fees for the current year and requested that they go toward personal protective equipment (PPE) for North Kingstown schools. 

“We would like to recognize Dr. Howard Silversmith from East Greenwich, who is our physician consultant,” King said. “He provides services [...] as well as supporting our school nurses or administrators who have various questions about the health and wellbeing of our North Kingstown students.” 

King said the bill for his services totaled $2,000, which would be put toward purchasing PPE. 

“We would really like to thank Dr. Silversmith for his support,” she said.

She also touched on the status of several departments, including maintenance, IT, food service and transportation, among others, which have all been hard at work during the COVID-19 pandemic, even with schools closed. 

“Things have settled down a little bit, even though we have a lot of uncertainty ahead,” King said. “I think this time has given us all a new appreciation of each other, no matter what our role is in the district.”

Superintendent Philip Auger also discussed plans for an alternative graduation, which are currently being put together. While Auger said that any plans that include congregating in a physical space would be “problematic,” he said the department was hard at work drumming up a different way to celebrate the graduating class of 2020. 

“Doing things outside and congregating–a lot of that can be pretty problematic, when you’re dealing with the governor’s rules around social distancing,” he said. “We’re trying to navigate all of that.”

Though it’s not finalized, Auger said the department would be announcing plans for the alternative ceremony in the coming weeks, adding that he and high school principal Barbara Morse had been in contact with Gov. Gina Raimondo’s office, the department of health and several student and parent groups. 

“We’re hoping to have an announcement in the next week or so,” he continued. “There are still some meetings we need to have and questions we need answered. We’re certainly with all of you, no one’s forgotten our seniors in all of this.”

He also said plans were underway for fifth graders and eighth graders, who also normally have promotion ceremonies at this time of year. 

As soon as a decision is made on the ceremonies, Auger said the department would be sending a special announcement  directly to seniors and their parents, followed by another announcement to the whole community. 

Later in the meeting, school committee chair Greg Blasbalg also provided an update on the school department’s FY2021 budget, which was also affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The school committee initially submitted its preliminary budget earlier this year, however modifications had to be made after the pandemic upended the town’s projected revenue. The town council directed the committee to cut $1.1 million from the department’s budget, in order to make up for the loss in projected revenue and to avoid raising taxes on residents. 

However, in order to alleviate cuts to the budget, the committee requested that an allocation of $400,000 to the department’s capital reserve fund be moved to its operating budget, which the council declined to do. 

Now, the committee will have to return to its budget and find ways to make up for the current $400,000 gap in what the school department requested and what the council approved. 

Blasbalg said that there were still several unknowns, such as the amount the school department would be receiving in state aid, though he said the committee would have to take up the budget sooner rather than later. 

“We are going to have to revisit our budget to the tune of $400,000 to bring that into balance,” he said. “We are not prepared to do that quite yet, though we are running out of time. There are still so many tremendous unknowns at this point for the FY21 budget. We are going to have to come back and balance that out before the end of the fiscal year, but we’re hoping to have some better guidance on state aid and just a whole slew of other things that are going to affect that number before we make any final budget adjustments.”

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