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NK school committee continues difficult budget discussions

March 1, 2013

NORTH KINGSTOWN—The school committee met again on Wednesday, Feb. 20 to debate further the budget process for Fiscal Year 2013-14, namely the discrepancy between expenditures and declining revenues. Members Robert Jones and William Mudge, III, the committee representatives on the budget sub-committee, presented their formal concerns regarding the process.

Director of Administrative Services Mary King first informed the committee that savings in decreased dental coverage payments can be applied to Superintendent of Schools Stephen Auger’s budget, totaling $272,000. The committee then voted unanimously to accept that reduction, bringing the total budget number down to $58,865,891.
“It is good to have some good news, “said committee member Larry Ceresi regarding the vote.
King also wanted to clarify public and committee concerns about the FY 2013-14 budget proposal’s suggested expenditure increases, stating that decreasing revenues will impact the ultimate budget and force harder decisions if the town level funds or provides a minimal funding increase.
“Our town tax funding is not our only source of revenues, so while taxes are going up 1.8 percent, people are not considering the decrease in other revenues, such as those from the state and in Jamestown tuitions,” said King. “But you can’t look at the bottom line and say, well your expenses went up only two percent, so you only need to ask for two percent from the town.”
Jones echoed King’s statement, noting that the committee has done a good job preliminarily to suggest expenditure cuts which would meet a $58,865,891 budget.
“I think it is important for the town and our citizens to recognize the two sides of the equation,” said Jones. “The administration and committee have done a good job in trying to look at what is the minimal required maintenance of effort to advance what we did this year into next year.”
“Every dollar of revenue we do not budget for is money that has to be made up by the taxpayers, assuming the town council approves our bottom line,” he added. “Las year the committee had to make a lot of cuts that impacted hundreds if not thousands of students and families. If we do as good a job on the revenue sides as on expenditures, that gives us more flexibility in our budget.”
Committee member Larry Ceresi further noted that, although he feels the committee must look at decreasing revenues as an issue to tackle, the school district should not use one time payments from sources such as state or federal grant programs, which are unreliable in a long-term sense.
“If revenue estimates come back better than what we budget for, I think we can use that to offset some of the potential cuts we have been discussing,” said Ceresi. “At the same time, I think we all agree we need to be to be very cautious of using one-time revenues to fill a hole on a recurring expense, and I just want to be mindful of that.”
“We are not going to fill recurring budget gaps wit a one time funding sources for the fund balance,” he added. “It creates a structural deficit that has gotten many cities and budgets in a lot of trouble. When you talk about a $100,000 or $200,000 discrepancy or flexibility of estimated revenues in a $58 million budget, you have pretty much done your job at cutting it close.”
Members also noted that some expenditures will not be known until the summer when new students are registering to enter the North Kingstown School District.
“We have a budget that has large swings in it, unlike the town budget, such as with special education students coming in,” said Lynda Avanzato. “In a two, three or six month period, that could completely change the budget by a half million.”
“It is important that the school committee has a surplus every year so we don’t have to keep going to the town and taxpayers if we have items in the budget that swing large amounts,” she continued.
Currently, Auger’s budget reduction projection would, in a worst case scenario, entail eliminating all school sports and after-school activities, which includes every student club and musical performance, totaling savings of $660,000. At the Feb. 12 school committee work session, Auger expressed his frustration about making more cuts to a district that has already been heavily impacted by reductions.
“[The proposed budgets] contain every place we could find, and there will be further reduction in teaching, which may need to happen even with a four percent increase,” said Auger at the time. “We will see reductions in the number of foreign languages we teach, building improvements would suffer, the coordinator s that keep our web pages in shape would go away. All of that hardly gets us to one percent.”
“The next things would be what we hold near and dear,” he added. “[Things like] after school programs and clubs are not mandated by law, but we all know they are within the character of this town and what parents want. There are no good choices, and there are some that you cannot do unless they are against the law and completely irresponsible.”
The school committee also approved a number of teacher lay-offs last Wednesday evening, as well as selecting members for the Audit Committee. The committee will next meet on Tuesday, March 12.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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