June 6, 2017 – Providence Analytics laid out its vision for the Town of East Greenwich at Monday (6/5/17) night’s Town Council special budget hearing, preaching the gospel of One Town.
That gospel would retain Town Manager Tom Coyle’s proposed $61.9 million budget – including a 43 cent tax rate decrease – by consolidation and cutting capital expenses. While the auditors’ budget echoed Coyle’s budget in giving the schools no funding increase, the recommendation to move the salaries of school district technology (IT), finance and human resources administrative positions to the town side would, in effect, give the schools an estimated $300,000 increase. In addition, the auditors said their budget proposal would allow for the hiring of a schools curriculum director, a long-sought-after goal of school officials.
But what this means for both the schools and the town remains cloudy. The information presented at Monday night’s hearing was new for almost everyone, though Town Council President Sue Cienki said last week that she had been getting updates from Providence Analytics.
For School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark, there were still unanswered questions, especially around school staffing cuts. At the School Committee meeting last week (5/30), the School Committee voted to send layoff notices to one library media specialist, one nurse, one French teacher, a Cole Middle School special ed teacher, and for reductions in the senior project and chorus positions, as well as elimination of the district’s aviation program, which serves a small number of out-of-district students. But in an earlier round of cuts, the panel had eliminated six paraprofessional (classroom aide) positions. As of last night, it was unclear which staffing cuts the auditors had used in their calculations. The School Committee meets Tuesday night (6/6) and Mark said she wanted to get clarifications from Providence Analytics before that meeting about what cuts they used in their calculations.
The auditors also proposed a $380,000 cut in the special education budget, but with what they said was a built-in cushion should the district need additional funds (say, if new students needing special ed services moved into the district mid-year) through a cut in the town’s capital spending budget line of $330,000. If there was a need, the school district could petition the town for additional funds and the funds would be there. If the schools did not need that money, it could be used by the town for capital spending.
Ultimately, the School Committee is in charge of how it spends school money, so it may come down to keeping existing staff or hiring a curriculum director.
During public comment, resident Heather Tibbetts questioned why the town would decrease the overall budget (giving a 43 cent cut in the tax rate) while sustaining significant cuts on both the school and town side. That 43 cent cut in the tax rate costs the budget roughly $650,000. Cienki said after the meeting that the money belongs to the taxpayers.
“We’re one town. If the schools fail, the town fails. If the town fails, the schools fail…. We all matter and there’s got to be a balance. So, how do we balance it on the schools side? … Let’s take anything noneducational from them. Let’s bring it to the town side and let them focus in on their mission,” Cienki said after the meeting.
The analysis presented by the auditors at the hearing was not yet available Monday night but Cienki said it would be posted on the town’s website.
The School Committee meets Tuesday (6/6) in the library at Cole Middle School at 7 p.m. The Town Council is set to vote on the fiscal year 2018 budget at a special meeting Thursday (6/8) at Town Hall. By Town Charter, the budget must be approved by June 10.
– Elizabeth McNamara
**This was a complex meeting. Ben Revkin and Nicole Bucka also took notes – you can find them on the EG Parents for Excellence Facebook page.
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