WOOD RIVER JCT. — At their fourth and final budget workshop Thursday, members of the Chariho School Committee approved additional reallocations and adjustments that reduced the budget by $223,724.
The district’s proposed fiscal 2020 spending plan is now $52.5 million, a 0.15 percent, or $77,000 increase over the current budget
The major concern remains the tax increases to be borne by two of the three towns.
Under the Chariho Act, the towns' shares are determined by enrollment, and even small changes in enrollment can dramatically alter a town’s contribution. Charlestown has 61 fewer children in the district this year, Richmond has 5 more children and Hopkinton has 21 more children in the schools. That means that Charlestown will pay 6.1 percent less but Richmond will pay 1.75 percent more and Hopkinton’s share will rise by 3.2 percent.
Hopkinton Town Council President Frank Landolfi said he wanted to see proof of Charlestown’s lower enrollment figure.
“Is that written somewhere?" he asked. “Is that in the clerk’s office? I just find that number really hard to comprehend. How do we get a written verification of that? I want to see proof of the 61 kids.”
Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci said, “We verify the enrollment with your town clerk’s office, each town clerk’s office. You issue a locator card and then we verify against those cards, and when there’s a discrepancy, we track it down. On Oct. 1, everyone is in agreement that those enrollments are accurate.”
Since the workshops began in early January, the committee has reduced the total budget by $841,669. Richmond committee member Clay Johnson argued that Thursday's reductions were not actual budget cuts.
“Tomorrow, the paper’s going to report that we cut $200,000 here tonight,” he said. “When I look at this, most of these are line item adjustments off the baseline budget.”
Among the proposed adjustments is the addition of $100,000 in anticipated additional categorical aid for transportation from the state, which the district may or may not eventually receive.
Ricci said he expected the district to receive the money. “I think $100,000 is a safe place to be, given the last few years, but I offer no guarantees. It could be zero,” he said.
In addition to several smaller items, other adjustments included a $42,589 transfer from workers’ compensation in the 2019 budget to the 2020 capital budget to pay for safety improvements at several schools.
Also reduced by about $41,000 were property, vehicle and other insurance premiums.
The committee quickly approved the proposed adjustments but Landolfi said the reductions were not enough.
“It has to be reduced,” he told the committee. “We have a very expensive bond that we’re going to be seeking in our town for the land trust — $2 million. That could affect our borrowing cost. You guys need to reduce this more.”
Charlestown Town Council member Deborah Carney suggested that since the dollar amount of the increase in the 2020 budget is just over $77,000, it should be relatively easy to make additional cuts to arrive at a level-funded budget.
“If you look at it, you only have $77,000 to move around, which is not a lot of money, so you’re pretty much level-funded to where you are this year,” she said. “Would that be a correct assessment?”
“It would be correct if you considered revenue,” Ricci said.
When the meeting adjourned, Landolfi said he was pleased with the reductions, but he added that with the Hopkinton budget process beginning soon, he needed to see more cuts.
“We obviously welcome families and kids and it’s not that,” he said. “What happens is, when this budget gets so high and again, what really affects us this year is the enrollment figures went up by 21. That hamstrings us.”
The public hearing on the budget will take place on March 5 with the School Committee’s adoption of the budget expected on March 12.