March 7, 2014 11:43AM
By CYNTHIA DRUMMOND
Sun Staff Writer
WOOD RIVER JCT. — Voters in Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton will have their chance to ask questions about the proposed $55 million Chariho school budget at a public hearing on Tuesday.
Unlike last year’s budget, which voters rejected three times, the 2014-15 budget, which contains no increases in expenses, will likely get a more positive reception; $1.69 million of the district’s unassigned fund balance, commonly referred to as the surplus, has been used to produce the level budget, leaving the district with a surplus of $1.58 million.
“We listened last year, and people said to us that they wanted a lower budget,” Chariho School District Superintendent Barry Ricci said. “Wanting a lower budget does not mean you sacrifice the elements of your strategic plan. I think we’ve honored both. We’ve provided a lower budget and we’ve also honored the long range planning that we’ve done.”
The contributions of two of the three towns have decreased. Charlestown will see its share drop by 2.3 percent and Hopkinton’s will drop by 1.3 percent. Richmond, whose enrollment in the district is up by five students, will pay .16 percent or $78,745 more.
A decrease in middle school student enrollment, 200 fewer students than 10 years ago, has made it possible for the district to make staff reductions. The number of certified staff has been reduced by 3.3, and support staff is reduced by .68.
Another highlight of the spending plan is an expansion of foreign language instruction.
“This budget includes foreign language instruction beginning in kindergarten,” Ricci said. “It also includes a more robust program in the middle school, so that kids in grades 7 and 8 will be able to earn high school credit for the first year of the high school foreign language program.”
The 1:1 initiative to equip students and teachers with laptop computers has been delayed until network upgrades have been completed. Those improvements, paid for with a $362,037 state grant, are scheduled to begin this week.
“The whole 1:1 roll-out was reliant on having the wireless infrastructure upgraded,” Ricci explained. “Originally we were told that the work would have been done last summer and I’d roll out in January. Well, we didn’t get the grant awarded until December, and they’re not going to start doing any upgrading until March 3 or 4. It would be a disaster to try and roll out when the infrastructure’s not right…. Right now, high school teachers have laptops and the plan was that the kids would receive them in grades 10, 11 and 12 in January. The kids will get theirs in August or September instead.”
Town officials said they were pleased with the proposed budget, and thought their taxpayers would be as well.
Hopkinton Town Council Vice President Sylvia Thompson, who has been a vocal critic of Chariho budgets in the past, said she was satisfied with this one.
“I have to say that the changes that have been made to the Chariho budget that Vinnie Cordone and Tom Buck and I have worked on since 2007, every year that we tried to get Chariho to change in reference to the surplus and the overestimations of their budgets, all the things that we were trying to get them to change, they have gradually gone in that direction. So I’m very pleased that for the first time, in all these years, they have a budget that I’m in favor of,” she said.
“The budget to me looks in pretty good shape,” said Hopkinton Town Council President Frank Landolfi. “I’m glad that they stepped up and made some cuts. I hope that everybody realizes the degree that the School Committee and the administration went to make sure that it was a taxpayer-friendly budget, and hopefully, folks will agree that it is,” he said.
Richmond Town Council President B. Joseph Reddish praised the School Committee for producing a budget that contains no increases.
“I think we’re very pleased that the School Committee has come up with a budget that’s on par,” he said.
Charlestown Town Council President Thomas Gentz said that rejecting this budget would be more costly than approving it.
“If the voters turn it down in the three towns, it will actually increase the cost to the towns if that budget that’s been proposed is not approved by the voters. So I’m hoping that people will approve it,” he said.
The hearing will take place at the Chariho Middle School auditorium at 7 p.m.