standing Chariho High School

Chariho High School. Sun file photo

WOOD RIVER JCT. — The legislative session that concluded last week brought some good news for the Chariho Regional School District. Transportation aid has been partially restored and the district will pay less for trash disposal.

Chariho will receive $93,145 in transportation aid, which will come close to making up the shortfall the district had anticipated.

“We budgeted an extra $100,000 to reduce impact on towns,” Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci said. 

Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy, D-Westerly, said he had lobbied hard for the transportation aid for Rhode Island's four regional school districts in the nearly $10 billion state budget.

“I am happy to report that $250,000 was restored to the regional school districts,” said Kennedy, whose district includes Hopkinton. “I went to Speaker Mattiello again this year and during our budget caucus, the speaker announced he was going to restore some of the shortfall in categorical regional transportation aid.”

Transportation aid to the regional districts was originally intended to make up for the elimination of regionalization bonuses, which had helped offset the higher cost of transporting students over greater distances. However, transportation aid has been sharply reduced over the past several years and local legislators have had to lobby each year for the funds.

“I'm thankful that the speaker has once again worked with us to address this issue, but I'm disappointed that the governor has once again placed a priority on trying to create new programs instead of funding requirements already in place,” Kennedy said.

On the matter of tipping fees, the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation notified the four regional school districts two years ago that they would no longer be eligible for the municipal disposal rate and would have to pay the higher commercial rate. 

Legislation introduced by Kennedy in the House of Representatives and by state Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, in the Senate, was approved to override the corporation's rate decision on June 28, near the end of this year's General Assembly session. Other sponsors were Reps. Justin Price, Blake Filippi, Samuel Azzinaro and Michael Chippendale, and Sens. Elaine Morgan, Gordon Rogers, and Walter Felag Jr.

Algiere said school committee members and representatives from the three Chariho towns had raised the tipping fee issue during the district’s annual Omnibus meeting last January. “This was brought up at the Omnibus meeting and as such, we introduced the legislation,” he said. 

The commercial tipping fee for fiscal year 2020 is $85 per ton. The municipal rate is $47 per ton. When Chariho asked the towns if they could give the district a portion of their trash allocations, Hopkinton and Charlestown declined but Richmond agreed to give 340 tons of its trash allocation to Chariho.

Based on a maximum disposal of 680 tons, minus the 340 tons from Richmond, the district will pay $16,000 per year under the municipal tipping fee schedule. Under the commercial rate, the district would have paid $29,000.

“When I introduced it in February of this year, I hoped that we could begin the discussion on the merits of allowing regional school districts to be charged the same tipping fee on solid waste collected and disposed of by the [other] school districts,” Kennedy said.  “Since a regional school district does not reside in any one community, disallowing the practice would be penalizing schools that serve local municipalities but were not allowed to utilize the municipal tonnage at the central landfill.” 

Ricci said the two legislative initiatives would help ease the financial burden on the school district and the towns.

“I’m thankful for Rep. Kennedy’s advocacy for Chariho and the member towns,” Ricci said. “Both the transportation categorical increase for which we budgeted as revenue and the tipping fee legislation will be helpful on a going-forward basis.”

At press time, Gov. Gina Raimondo had not yet signed the 2020 state budget into law.

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