WOOD RIVER JUNCTION — Members of the Chariho School Committee, voting 7-1 with one abstention, adopted the district's proposed schools budget Wednesday night.
Richmond member Clay Johnson voted against the budget and Murat Dymov, also of Richmond, abstained; three members were absent.
The $52.5 million fiscal 2020 spending plan was reduced by $18,210, after Richmond agreed to a request to allocate 340 tons of its solid waste cap to the school district, thereby allowing Chariho to take advantage of the town’s lower municipal trash disposal fees at the state landfill. Charlestown rejected Chariho's request, and Hopkinton, which uses the Westerly transfer station, has taken no action.
The towns' shares of the budget are based on enrollment, and Hopkinton's contribution will rise by 3.2 percent, the result of an enrollment increase of 21 students. Richmond will pay 1.75 percent more, and Charlestown, with fewer children in the district, will pay 6.1 percent less.
Johnson asked members to think of the impact the budget would have on taxpayers. The increase in the three towns’ combined shares is 0.11 percent.
“I think we ought to keep this in mind,” he said. “I think we don’t talk about this enough, the impact of this budget on the families in this area.”
Superintendent Barry Ricci's original proposal called for spending $53.4 million.
Charlestown member Donna Chambers asked Johnson where he thought further reductions could be made.
“I don’t know what you would recommend we would do with reducing the budget,” she said. “I think that reducing it from where it was to begin with down to where it is now — I’m assuming that the 0.11 increase is about as good as we’re going to get, and what would you recommend in terms of fiscally modifying our school district’s expenses to lower that?”
“We haven’t made any cuts," Johnson replied. "We’ve adjusted a budget. There have been no cuts. This budget is the biggest budget Chariho has ever seen, regardless of the percentage. Second, the two easiest cuts I thought to make, which I proposed and were rejected, are the removal of the stipend and removal of half the training for the admin team, going from $2,000 per admin person to $1,000.”
(Johnson was referring to stipends for School Committee members; however, the stipends are not in the new budget.)
The public budget hearing will take place on March 5 and the budget referendum will be on April 9.
The committee also discussed a proposal made at the January Omnibus meeting to reduce spikes in enrollment, and therefore, inequities in Chariho budget contributions. Ricci said that the idea is to consider a five-year enrollment average for each town, rather than using annual enrollment, which can fluctuate dramatically.
“Instead of doing it on one year, you would look at five years,” he said.
Chariho Director of Finance Susan Rogers said she had discussed the five-year enrollment proposal last week with finance directors from all three towns.
“We looked at the data,” she said. “They felt that looking enrollment alone, or a five-year rolling average, wouldn’t necessarily solve the problems.”
Ricci said he was expecting to hear more from the towns about the proposal.
“I think it would be prudent to give it a little time and see what people come back with,” he said. “Perhaps Sue can reach out to them in a couple of weeks and just see where things stand. If they’re all in agreement, we would likely bring you a recommendation so you can take a lead on it, but if they’re all over the place and not in agreement, then we probably wouldn’t bring anything back to you.”