WOOD RIVER JCT. — As they have for the past several years, representatives from the three towns and members of the Chariho School Committee asked state legislators attending Wednesday’s Omnibus meeting to do their best to ensure that transportation aid promised to the district by the state is restored. The aid has been level-funded at the state level once again this year, resulting in a loss to the district of $588,163.
The district is also anticipating having to pay increases in tuitions for students attending charter and career and technical schools in other districts, as the Rhode Island Department of Education is encouraging wider school choice. Like other districts, Chariho is obligated by state law to pay the tuitions and transportation costs of students who choose to attend schools outside the district. Costs for out-of-district tuition for 2019 are budgeted at $1,205, 958.
State lawmakers attending the meeting were Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, Charlestown; Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy, D-Hopkinton; Rep. Blake Filippi, R-Charlestown; and Rep. Justin Price, R-Richmond.
Kennedy said he and Algiere had already met with Gov. Gina Raimondo’s staff to ask that the funds be included in the state budget, which will be presented in two weeks.
“We brought up the fact that Chariho has taken a hit every single year in the education formula, the fact that there’s been an increase in the number of charter schools, and yet the expenses at Chariho continue to be in place and it’s almost like the Department of Education hasn’t woken up to the reality that the public schools are doing a good job,” he said.
Algiere said he had warned the governor’s office that what’s happening in Chariho could happen in other districts.
“We also argued that if it happens in a regional school district, it’s going to happen in a public school district like anywhere else,” he said. “You can leave for a mathematics course anywhere else. You can leave for an English course anywhere else. And that’s going to cause problems.”
The proposed 2019 operating budget is an increase of 2.3 percent over the current spending plan. All three towns will see their contributions increase, but Hopkinton, which has had the largest increase in enrollment will, as a result, see the greatest increase in its contribution: $18.9 million, a 3 percent hike.
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.
School committee member Georgia Ure of Hopkinton asked Hopkinton Finance Director Brian Rosso to calculate how the increase in her town’s contribution would affect property tax rates.
“It looks like Hopkinton is going to be paying $588,000 more,” she said. “How is that going to affect our mill rate in the town of Hopkinton?”
Rosso replied that the mill rate would increase by $0.71 per $1,000, from $20.07 to $20.78. For a home valued at $250,000, that would mean an annual property tax increase of $177.50.
The new budget contains minor staffing changes, including an overall full-time staff reduction of .85 of a position. 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.
The School Committee had its first look at the budget a week ago, and met again Tuesday. The only change that has been made to the budget so far was the reinstatement of field trips, a $17,000 expense that was deducted from the general expenses budget. The committee will take another look at the budget next week.
Hopkinton school committee member Lisa Macaruso encouraged the legislators to promote the quality of Chariho’s programs whenever they could to keep students from leaving the district and to attract new students. The district’s marketing initiative, launched last year, has already produced results. Tuitions at Chariho Tech are projected to increase by $554,783 in 2019.
“One way for us to address the funding that we lose through school choice is to really promote our brand — become competitive. Promote what we do,” she said. “I want to ask you to do that. Partner with us. Promote us.”
“We boast about Chariho regularly,” Algiere said. “You have a good-performing school, well-managed, a good governance, and a good superintendent of schools.”