WOOD RIVER JCT. — Officials at the Chariho Regional School District were counting on the restoration of state transportation aid, and after intense lobbying by the district and two state legislators, the funds were included in the $9.6 billion state budget, which was signed into law by Gov. Gina Raimondo on Friday.
Chariho Finance Director Susan Rogers credited state Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, and Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy, D-Hopkinton, with successfully lobbying to have the categorical aid for transportation restored to the state’s four regional school districts.
The districts will share a total of $600,000, but the exact amount Chariho will receive is still unknown. The 2018-2019 Chariho budget of $57.5 million assumed a restoration of $130,000 in transportation aid, and it appears the district will be receiving nearly $100,000 more.
“Through the hard work and persistence of Representative Kennedy along with Senator Algiere, the transportation categorical aid to be shared by regional school districts was increased by $600,000 from what was submitted in the governor’s budget,” Rogers said in an email. “This equates to an increase for Chariho of $228,952 (according to numbers from the state). Now that the budget has passed in both the House and Senate, we will be receiving verified numbers shortly.”
Algiere said he was pleased that his efforts on behalf of Chariho had been successful.
“I’m glad that we managed to get this included in the budget,” he said. “Early on, they brought this to our attention. I was in frequent contact with the leadership in the Senate and the Finance Committee.”
Kennedy said he had worked closely with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello to have the funds for the regional school districts restored to the state budget.
“This money was not in Governor Raimondo's original budget announced in January and was only added after I met twice with the speaker to ensure that Chariho received these funds as required by the Education Equity and Property Tax Relief Act (16-7.2-6),” he wrote in an email. “The intent was to ensure that the state would equally split the transportation costs with regional school districts in Rhode Island, and these extra dollars are in addition to the $1.4 million that the governor originally recommended in her budget.”
Kennedy said he and Algiere had also been successful in heading off an attempt to remove the regionalization bonuses, which were originally allocated as incentives for the four school districts to regionalize.
“A second issue which was equally concerning was an amendment made in the House Finance Committee approved budget that would reduce the share ratio of the regional school districts and take away all regional bonuses,” he said. “This was particularly concerning, since today, the Chariho District receives [a] 69 percent reimbursement of state funds for any building-improvement projects, but under the proposed amendment, that reimbursement would have fallen to 40 percent from the state, leaving taxpayers in the district on the hook for 60 percent of the total cost. I met with the speaker on this matter and the Rhode Island Department of Education also weighed in against the proposed amendment. With the pressure of the regional school districts, we were able to remove that amendment from the final budget, which means the regional school districts maintain their regional bonuses for building improvement projects.”
Rogers agreed that the amendment would have resulted in a significant financial loss to Chariho.
“Representative Kennedy along with Senator Algiere also worked to have language that had been added to Article 9, with no knowledge or input from regional school districts, removed from the proposed budget,” she said. “This language would have drastically cut the housing ID eligibility for regional school districts from a possible 69 percent to 40percent by 12/30/2023.”
Each year, the regional school districts have managed to have their transportation aid funds restored, but attempts to include the aid as a permanent allocation have been unsuccessful.
Algiere said it would be necessary to continue to closely monitor the budget preparation process to ensure that any reductions in funding are immediately addressed.
“This is something we have to keep our eyes on in the budget process,” he said. “We just have to be on our toes. Each year, we’ve been successful, and I’m glad we were successful this year.”