Supt. Victor Mercurio presented a $35.8 million budget to the School Committee Tuesday night, a $1.2 million – 3 percent – increase over this year’s budget. The bulk of the increase, $956,658, would come from the town budget, with the remaining $235,374 coming from EGSD revenue sources. Enrollment for EG schools is trending upward – from 2,368 students in 2009-10 to 2,432 students in 2013-14.
By town charter, the School Committee must pass a budget and submit it to the Town Council by March 15.
School Committee Chair David Green asked Mercurio to prepare a list of possible cuts for the panel’s meeting next Tuesday.
“If there are budget reductions that can bring us back more in line with what we have been granted as an increase from the town in years’ past,” he said. “I’d like to see any potential cuts, a list of items … to use that for discussion and potential action next week.”
But he said he was grateful for the cushion afforded the district since the state implemented an education funding formula in 2012. East Greenwich is one of the districts that has received extra state aid because of underfunding in previous years. The funding formula built in a seven-year transition for districts like East Greenwich that would be getting more funding. (For districts where the funding has been cut the transition is over a ten-year period.) East Greenwich is budgeted to receive $2.5 million in state aid in 2015, up from $1.4 million in 2012, $1.9 million in 2013, and $2.3 million for 2014.
“I would note, it is fortunate that we are in a period of time that … we have been able to benefit by the change in the funding formula and we will do so for another three years,” Green said. “So that has buffered … the challenges that we have a little bit, but that certainly does not by any stretch eliminate them.”
Salary costs represent 59 percent of the budget, with the second largest portion of the budget – 21 percent – designated for benefits. However, the School Committee and the teachers union are still negotiating the teachers contract (retroactive, now, to Sept. 2013). The budget calls for a 2.1 percent increase in the salary line item, which includes teachers, paraprofessionals and custodians. Paras and custodians settled their contracts with the district last year and their contracts both call for a 2 percent pay increase in 2015, so it appears as if the district is looking to provide about the same increase for teachers.
About contract negotiations, Green said, “We continue to make progress with our negotiations, but not through yet.”
One big-ticket item in the proposed budget is $206,000* to lease Chromebooks for every high school student starting in September. That cost includes the price of the devices ($308 apiece) and one additional staff member. The School Committee approved the program at a meeting in January. Green, a supporter of the program, said it was not possible to say absolutely it would make it through the budgeting process, but he was optimistic.
“I personally don’t think it will go away,” he said. “I’m a supporter of it and I hope it doesn’t.”
The committee meets again Tuesday, March 4, at Cole Middle School at 7 p.m.
*An earlier version of this story stated the figure at $725,000. I regret the error.