WOOD RIVER JCT. — Members of the Chariho School Committee gathered Tuesday for the second in a series of budget workshops. The new budget contains both good and bad news: revenues are up, but contributions from the three Chariho towns will also increase.
Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci has presented a 2019 operating budget of $57.9 million, an increase of 2.3 percent. Capital expenses are projected to be $651,881, a $205,000 reduction resulting from state funding for the Ashaway school window replacement project.
Shifts in enrollment, on which each town’s share is based, will result in Hopkinton seeing the largest increase in its contribution, 3 percent, for an $18.9 million total. Richmond will pay $19.6 million, a 1.5 percent increase, and Charlestown, with the lowest enrollment, will pay $14.3 million, a 1.3 percent increase.
“The [total] impact on the towns, before the debt service on the bonds, when everything is applied, like fund balance, state aid, everything, is 1.32 percent,” Ricci said. “When you add debt service on top of that, that’s debt service on the Campus 2010 project and debt service on the new building [the school for special needs students] it’s 1.98 percent.”
The committee had its first look at the budget a week ago, and at this second meeting, members began scrutinizing individual line items. Committee Chair Sylvia Stanley said she was satisfied that the district had done the best it could with the spending plan.
“We’ve done well for what’s happened during the year,” she said.
Two members of the Friends of Chariho advocacy group were present for Tuesday’s meeting.
Sheila Grover said the group, whose goal is to protect the quality of education at Chariho schools, would have members at all budget meetings.
“We’re interested in the process, making sure it ends up being the best budget that it can possibly be,” she said.
The new budget contains minor staffing changes, including an overall full time staff reduction of .85 of a position. As part of the district’s marketing and outreach initiative, Ricci is proposing to hire a part time development officer.
Costs relating to employee health coverage will rise by 6 percent to $13.1 million. Salaries, which are determined by the provisions of collective bargaining agreements, will be $32.7 million.
A major factor negatively affecting the budget is the decision by the state Department of Education to level-fund transportation aid to the four regional school districts, which will result in a loss to Chariho of $588,163. As it has in past years, the district has enlisted the help of state legislators to lobby the state to increase its contribution from 35.8 percent to the 50 percent promised the regional districts in the Education Equity and Property Tax Relief Act.
Chariho is also anticipating increases in tuition payments for students attending charter and career and technical schools in other districts. The district is obligated by state law to pay the tuition and transportation costs of students who choose to attend schools outside the district. Out of district tuition is budgeted at $1,205,958.
Another increase in expenses is a projected $88,218 in the litigation budget to defend the district in several legal actions.
Attorney Jon Anderson remains on retainer, but Charlestown member Donna Chambers said the district might have to pay additional fees if it is found to be responsible for legal fees stemming from several lawsuits.
“That’s the projected increase that we need to budget because of the lawsuits that are currently pending,” she said.
Revenue is the budget’s slightly brighter spot. Tuition at Chariho Tech is projected to increase by $554,783 and with revenue from the two sales of district laptop computers, technology spending will be reduced by $73,345.
After spending an hour and a half going through the major expenses, committee members voted to reinstate the budget for field trips that had been cut from the previous budget. The funds, $17,000, will be taken from the general supplies and materials budget.
Ricci told the committee that he is in discussions with National Grid about energy-saving measures that the district can take to reduce costs. The district’s electricity budget for 2019 is $512,394.
“We’re in conversation with National Grid right now about retrofitting all the schools,” he said, adding that he is waiting for the utility’s proposal.
Compared to the marathon budget workshops in past years, this session was quick, with relatively little discussion or debate.
Richmond councilor Mark Trimmer, who last year opposed the budget, was attending the workshops for the first time and said he had learned a lot about the process.
“Last year, I spoke out of ignorance and I was against last year’s budget due to my lack of knowledge of what was going on,” he said. “I’ve kept more abreast of things this year, and I’ve listened instead of talked and I’ve learned a lot. So, I support the budget pretty much as it stands.”
The budget will be presented again tonight at 7 p.m., at Chariho Tech to the Finance Committee as well as the leaders of all three towns in their annual Omnibus meeting. That meeting also is open to the public.