NORTH KINGSTOWN – In order to make up for a shortfall, the North Kingstown School Committee on Tuesday approved further cuts and modifications to its FY 2021 budget. The final budget totaled roughly $70.4 million, with the cuts taken into account.

The school committee unanimously voted to cut $400,000 from its budget requests, filling a gap between what it had requested and what the town council approved in May.  

Earlier this year, the town council approved cuts to the school department’s budget requests, as well as other department budgets, because of a projected loss in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The council prioritized not increasing the tax rate, which is currently set at $17.09 per $1,000 of assessed value.  

To make up for a loss in projected revenue, and to keep the tax rate as it currently stands, the town council approved roughly $2.4 million in cuts to the overall budget, with a large portion of the cuts coming from the school department’s requests.

And while the school committee previously submitted a modified budget with various cuts, keeping in line with the amount approved by the town council, members of the council took issue with one request: moving $400,000 from the capital reserve fund to the general operating budget.

The council ultimately decided to reject the request and keep the $400,000 in the school department’s capital reserve, leaving the school committee to cut additional funds from the operating budget.

This week, the school committee approved the final modifications to the department’s budget, cutting $250,000 from technology hardware, $80,000 from savings in healthcare and $70,000 from charter tuition.

“These are the final reconciliations to bring our budget in line,” committee chair Gregory Blasbalg.

Though Blasbalg reiterated that these were the “final” changes made to the budget before it went into effect, that didn’t mean the school committee wouldn’t have to take it up again in the future.

The North Kingstown school district was originally projected to receive $11.8 million in state aid, however those figures were calculated before the COVID-19 pandemic upended the state’s revenue projections.

Now, districts around the state are preparing to receive less than what was originally projected, including North Kingstown. Blasbalg said the budget might have to be adjusted further, if the Rhode Island General Assembly approves a state budget with cuts to education aid.  

“The state has still not approved the state budget, we still do not know what our state aid is going to be, and there’s still a distinct possibility that, when those items are completely resolved or as those numbers come in, further adjustments will be necessary,” Blasbalg said.

“So while this is our final budget, a budget makes assumptions,” he continued. “And if those revenue assumptions turn out to be less than we expect, we’re going to have to make offsets or adjustments or fund balance appropriations–whatever might be necessary.”

If major cuts are made to state aid, Blasbalg said, the committee might have to reach out to the council and request additional funds.

Also in May, the school committee voted to lay off 40 teachers, due to potential cuts in state aid. However, superintendent Philip Auger said that the reduction in staff could be retracted, depending on the General Assembly’s final budget and whether the projected state aid to the North Kingstown school district is fully funded.

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