WOOD RIVER JCT. — In their second budget workshop on Tuesday, members of the Chariho School Committee strove to cut expenses in the proposed $59 million spending plan for the 2020 fiscal year.
Also present were Richmond Town Council President Gary Wright and Vice President Richard Nassaney; Hopkinton council member Barbara Capalbo; and members of the Friends of Chariho. The latter is a parent advocacy group that wants to maintain small class sizes at Richmond Elementary School.
The new budget would be a 1.75 percent increase over the current budget. However, because of shifts in enrollment, two of the three towns, Hopkinton and Richmond, would face increases of 4.8 percent and 3.4 percent in their contributions, while Charlestown, which has fewer children in the district, would see its contribution decline by 4.5 percent. Given this disparity, one of the goals of the budget process has been to try to find ways to provide financial relief to Hopkinton and Richmond.
Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci presented an overview of the capital budget, which includes several school improvement projects that would be offset by state grants. The $938,000 in capital expenses will be reduced to $582,000 after the application of more than $320,000 in state housing aid and 35,000 in categorical aid.
The committee went through a list of proposed budget reductions that Ricci produced, following the first budget workshop on Jan. 3.
The list includes 18 suggested budget adjustments as well as a request to the towns of Charlestown and Richmond to allot 340 tons each from their solid waste caps, which would save the district $36,420. The district is expecting responses shortly from the two towns. Hopkinton sends its waste to Westerly and therefore cannot participate.
In a move that is expected to lessen the financial impact of enrollment increases in two of the towns, the committee voted to apply $379,000 of the district’s fund balance to the operating budget. That would leave a fund balance of 2 percent, the minimum required by the state.
“You take the fund balance down to 2 percent, which is in your policy, which is where it is now,” Ricci said. “We did the same thing last year, in recognition of the two towns that have a pretty heavy burden because of the shifts in enrollment.”
Also under consideration was the possible elimination of the position of assistant principal at Richmond Elementary School, the only elementary school in the district to have such a position. That move would save$45,000.
Capalbo urged the committee to leave personnel decisions to a later meeting when the remaining budget picture is clear.
“I think you should pause,” she said. “Before you start cutting people, cut the rest of your budget and then go back and decide if you want to cut people.”
The committee agreed to defer that discussion to a later meeting.
Other budget reductions include a saving of $27,000 if, as expected, the new Chariho Alternative Learning Academy qualifies for a 4 percent energy bonus.
School Committee member stipends totaling $24,000 were erroneously included in the 2020 budget when they will not be paid until 2021.
The budget for maintaining the high school and middle school grounds and athletic fields was reduced by $23,000, and the new school resource officer will start work at a lower salary than the departing officer, saving the district nearly $12,000. The budget for fuel oil was also reduced by $10,000.
The next budget workshop will take place on Jan.15.