The School Committee and Town Council met in a joint session Monday night to begin a real look at budget numbers now that the School Committee has submitted a $36.9 million budget that would require $33.3 million from the town.
After a brief overview by School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark, who outlined why the “ask” this year is $900,000 higher than last year, citing higher health care costs and increased enrollment, Town Council President Michael Isaacs asked why the School Committee didn’t tap more of the fund balance.
“Last year, $170,000 out of the fund balance was used in the budget,” said Isaacs. “This year it’s $100,000. This has not been a good revenue year for the town, raising that number by $70,000 would certainly help.”
The town budget has not yet been finalized but Town Manager Tom Coyle has estimated a loss of $600,000 in revenue for fiscal year 2016, more than half that amount coming from the loss of money from Warwick to cover fire and rescue service to Potowomut.
“If you look at the budget that’s before you, you’ll see what we have pulled from fund balance over the past four years,” responded Mark. “It averages $115,000. Last year was an anomaly.”
She explained the school district used that $170,000 from fund balance to help pay for the first year of the 1:1 Chromebook distribution at East Greenwich High School, but that the district had planned to scale back that money over the three-year lease plan so that 1:1 would be sustainable.
“What you’re proposing is to essentially use fund balance to reduce the financial burden on the town,” said Mark. She noted the School Committee has a fund balance policy and they would have to look at appropriate uses of the fund and she said the committee would discuss Isaacs’ proposal at its meeting April 7.
Councilor Sue Cienki presented her list of questions for the School Committee, reminding the panel that she was in the unique position of having served on the School Committee.
“I understand your process,” she told them. Still, she said, “there are 13,000 residents in the town and 2,400 are students … I have questions.”
Cienki ticked off a series of questions:
- whether teachers were working at capacity (in terms of the number of students per classroom);
- if the School Committee had studied the efficacy of the current all-day kindergarten classroom at Meadowbrook to make sure it was worth replicating at Frenchtown;
- if any efficiencies had been realized by implementing 1:1 at the high school (on textbooks, for instance);
- if parents who had not purchased Chromebook insurance were paying the cost of any repairs;
- what the district was doing to ensure math scores improved (“mediocrity in our schools – our students, our taxpayers deserve better”);
- what if anything was in the turf field replacement fund, with the turf due for replacement in 2019.
“We will be happy to address those questions on April 13,” said Mark, referring to the date of the state-mandated Town Council–School Committee budget hearing.
The town’s budget, by charter, is to be made public by Wednesday, April 1.
And, if you like what you’re reading, consider supporting East Greenwich News by clicking here.