Above: Town Manager Nota addresses the School Committee.
The Town Council and School Committee presented where they were financially as of February 2023 but also spoke of expenses they anticipated at a charter-mandated pre-budget conference Tuesday at Cole Middle School.
The town is forecasting a $100,000 deficit for the current year. The town had budgeted $600,000 out its fund balance (aka rainy day fund) but a surplus from FY2022 means the town can use that instead of fund balance to plug that FY2023 budget gap.
The school district is so far forecasting a small surplus this fiscal year, but they also budgeted more than $1 million from their fund balance to pay operating expenses after not getting what they had budgeted for from both the town and the state. The town gave the schools $500,000 less than the committee had budgeted and the state made a very last-minute revision to education aid resulting in $581,000 less for EG schools.
One piece of positive news is Gov. Dan McKee’s budget calls for $5.7 million in education aid for East Greenwich, a little over $1 million over last year. Then again, last year’s state education aid number looked good … until it didn’t. Ultimately it’s up to the General Assembly to finalize the state budget. Much of the talk from local officials Tuesday was the need to stay focused on that state aid number throughout the budget process (i.e. well into June most years).
School officials, Committeewoman Nicole Bucka in particular, said the state needed a better formula to fund education for students with disabilities. According to Bucka, 13 percent of East Greenwich students have special needs and thus require additional resources to be on par with their non-disabled classmates. Right now, the state only offers extra aid for students with disabilities who are also in poverty.
On the town side, councilors Caryn Corenthal and Mike Donegan spoke of competing needs for the town’s finances, including basic town operations as well as long-deferred spending on a new highway garage, mandated waste-water treatment plant upgrades, and regular road maintenance.
Corenthal said even though no school budget has yet been put forth, she would not be able to support funding it fully and also support putting a major school bond referendum before voters. She was referring to an expected ask from the School Committee sometime in 2023 for $100 million or more to make major investments in EG school buildings. More than half of that cost could be reimbursable from the state but the entire amount (whatever it turns out to be) would have to go on the town books.
“I don’t think you [can] have all the money for your operating budget and we’re going to approve a major bond,” she said. “I mean, I haven’t seen any numbers yet. That’s just my thinking, just so you know.”
The School Committee must submit a budget to the town by April 15. Town Manager Nota must present his budget by May 1; the Town Council must approve a budget by June 30.
Find the meeting presentations HERE.
So councilwoman Corenthal is basically saying we can either operate our schools next year OR take advantage of generous state refunds to build/renovate our schools, but we can’t do both? Without even seeing the operating budget yet? She knows the operating budget is completely seperate from the building bond right?….right?
With respect, that is not what I was referring to. I wanted to alert the School Committee to long neglected town initiatives that require investment. It is not a choice to do one or the other. However, we are a small town with lmited financial resources. I was referring to a potential ask from the school at 4% or more which is often what they ask for, plus funding the town initiatives, plus asking tax payers to take on debt.
Regarding the separate issue of a school bond. I, for one, definitely want to take advantage of the state incentives, Our schools need significant investment.
Any indication where the defict is coming from? COVID is greatly lessened, so most of the tax incone from restaurants should be close to projections, and we must’ve only used a fraction of the snow budget.