The Town Council approved a resolution 5-0 at its virtual meeting Tuesday night that asks the state to exempt any additional funds the town might give to the schools this year from future school budget requests.
Under normal conditions, the state requires towns to provide “maintenance of effort” to their schools – municipalities have to spend at least as much money on education each year as they did in the last (barring a significant drop in the number of students). Due to the financial havoc wrecked by this year’s coronavirus pandemic, however, the school district might not get the state aid previously promised and, while some COVID-related expenses will be covered by federal CARES Act money, how direct costs of the pandemic will affect the budget is far from clear.
The current 2021 budget proposed by Gov. Gina Raimondo (found HERE) does not have a specific provision granting pandemic-related aid for local schools. Most of the state-related pandemic aid has been through initiatives of the governor’s office, funded by the $1.25 billion CARES Act dollars.
While understanding the town might need to step in to help out the school district with additional money, the Town Council doesn’t want these exceptional times to become the standard for East Greenwich’s education spending.
East Greenwich is just one of many municipalities considering this type of resolution. The actual granting of the exemption depends on the General Assembly, but two of EG’s state legislators said they would support the exemption.
State Rep. Justine Caldwell (Dist. 30) and Sen. Bridget Valverde (Dist. 35) both attended the virtual meeting. Caldwell said that while schools should be reimbursed for their increased expenses, the state budget won’t be passed until late November, so it’s unclear what relief they’ll be granted.
The School Committee also discussed the MOE at their virtual meeting, which was held on Tuesday night as well.
School Committee member Alyson Powell said that so far the schools have met increased COVID-related costs by using savings and reallocating budgeted funds and the district has not had to reach out to the town for additional money.
However, town and school officials anticipate that will change.
According to Town Manager Andrew Nota, the town will need to work closely with the schools in coming weeks and months. It’s an “all hands on deck” situation, he said.
Town Council member Michael Donegan said if the town had to maintain extended expenditure into and beyond 2021, it would have to ask for expanded funding from the General Assembly. The council talked about how they could use the time between now and the state budget approval to build a statewide response.
Representative Caldwell agreed.
“This is an instance where normal tensions get allayed, and we are all rowing in the same boat together, which in this chaotic time is a blessing,” she said.
You can watch a video of the Sept. 29 Town Council meeting HERE.