NORTH KINGSTOWN — Without any debate, the North Kingstown School Committee approved its 2021-22 proposed budget. It will now be sent to the North Kingstown Town Council for approval.
The proposed budget is for a general fund of $71,932,787, with $56,062,787, coming from town appropriation — a 4 percent increase from last year.
One thing that was pointed out by the North Kingston School District Chief Operating Officer Mary King is that the budget does not reflect any COVID spending.
While the status of the pandemic next year can’t be for certain right now, School Board Chair Greg Blasbalg, explained that they still have to move forward with the budget process, hope for the best and if needed readjust accordingly.
“We can’t budget for something that we don’t know is going to happen,”Blasbalg stated.
The budget will now be in the hands of the town board who will make the final decision on how much funding the school district will receive from the town next year. Blasbalg explained that if the town comes back with a different figure they will have to adjust the budget.
In an unusual move the North Kingstown School Board was able to approve sending money back to the town.
It was explained by King that due to a variety of different unexpected funding sources — including the CARES Act, as well as some unexpected savings — they are able to have what she described as a substantial projected surplus this year.
While the state has policies in place that prevent school districts from sending surpluses back to the town, the district’s attorney advised this was allowed, in her opinion, because the money came from additional funding given to the district from the town, that was not part of the original budget.
Blasbalg explained that during the fall, when there was a great amount of uncertainty around schools reopening and it being unclear if, when, or how much money schools would receive from the state or through the CARES Act, the school district went to the town council asking them to help out.
They agreed to fund an additional $500,000 to the school district in three different payments.
“We were looking at a budget situation that was dire,” Blasbalg said. “I want to thank everyone on the town council who voted for it.”
The school committee agreed to return the $333,333 that the district has received thus far from the extra funding from the town.
“I want to thank the town council a lot,” Blasbalg said. “They came through for us.”
During his superintendent report Phil Auger announced that if the district has anymore snow days this school year they will be distance learning days instead of a traditional snow day.
This news came after Auger and his staff previously decided to cancel school instead of having distance learning days, when winter storms made their way to the state earlier this school year.
He originally brought this up in a previous school committee meeting explaining at the time that because of where the school year was scheduled to end they would not go into the following week meaning they could have a couple of traditional snow days.
After using up those snow days, the last day of school is now June 24, and Auger isn’t taking any chances.
“Hopefully we won’t have any more snow days but if we do you can plan on them being [distance learning] days,” Auger said during the meeting.
Also during his superintendent report Auger talked about COVID-19.
He explained that while they hope to get more information soon, end of the year activities still remain up in the air at this time, and much of the final decisions on what to do with important events like graduation will come down to the state of the pandemic and vaccination rollout.
“We have to be patient,” he said.
He said that he expects to be able to have a final decision come the end of April or beginning of May and will relay information to the community as soon as possible.
It was also announced during the meeting that two longtime employees — HR supervisor Deborah Gardiner, and transportation supervisor John Horan — will soon be retiring from the district.
King said that Gardiner’s last day will be on February 26 while Horan’s will be at the end of the fiscal year and has expressed that he would be willing to hang on a little bit longer if needed.
With the anticipating retirements and other personnel moves within the district this led to another agenda item later on in the meeting about what to do to fill the positions.
One of the biggest changes that was proposed and approved came from the HR department.
King explained that they wanted to switch the head of the department from being an HR supervisor to an HR director role and are looking for someone who has experience as an HR director previously to help oversee the department for a school district that has 600 employees.
The district will also be going with a full-time HR clerk. Previously the position had been filled by Amy Healey who served part-time in that role as well as part-time as the clerk to the school committee. With Healey’s departure to serve as the assistant to the superintendent for the East Greenwich School District and the realization that they needed a full-time clerk in the department, it was decided that it was a good time to change the role and to help boost the HR department overall.
It was also explained by King that they have come up with a way they think will help solve the issue of having a hard time filling the transportation position. She explained that originally, pre-COVID, Horan was going to retire but decided to stay on board as the pandemic hit. She told the committee that when she advertised the position last year she wasn’t able to get any applications but this year they decided to get a consultant to help them find two very qualified candidates, she explained.
The hope is that they will be able to fill the outgoing position soon and that Horan can work with the new supervisor to make a smooth transition.
“Were really fortunate to have had these people in these important positions for a long time,” Auger said.
The next North Kingstown School Committee meeting is slated for Tuesday, March 9 at 7 p.m.