WOOD RIVER JCT. — Members of the Chariho School Committee shaved an additional $230,000 off the proposed budget at their third budget workshop Tuesday.
The fiscal year 2020 spending plan was originally proposed at more than $59 million. As it stands now, said Hopkinton committee member Catherine Giusti, “We’ve cut over $670,000 from the budget altogether.”
Of greatest concern are increases in the budget contributions from Hopkinton and Richmond, the result of higher student enrollment in the two towns. Hopkinton, with the greatest enrollmen increase, would pay 3.6 percent more, and Richmond would face a 2.1 percent increase. Charlestown, which had a decline in enrollment, would see its contribution decrease by 5.7 percent.
Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci said the committee was continuing to look for ways to ease the financial pain for the two towns.
“Understandably, the committee would like to reduce the burden on Hopkinton and Richmond, where enrollment continues to rise,” he said. “I will continue to look for efficiencies to ease the burden on taxpayers of all three towns.”
Since the first budget workshop, the overall increase in the three towns’ contributions was reduced from 1.75 percent to 0.96 percent in the second workshop, and was further cut to 0.5 percent in the Tuesday session.
However, Hopkinton and Richmond will still pay larger shares than Charlestown, Giusti said, because there are more children in those communities.
“I think what people in Hopkinton don’t want to face is, we have more kids,” Giusti said. “That’s how it goes. You pay more because you have more children going to the schools.”
At the Jan. 9 Chariho Omnibus meeting, Richmond Town Council Vice President Richard Nassaney suggested convening a meeting of the three towns to see whether a way could be found to calculate student enrollment over a longer period, such as five years, which could mitigate the enrollment spikes. The Chariho Act currently requires that enrollment be calculated on an annual basis, so the act itself would need to be changed. Amendments require approval by the Rhode Island General Assembly as well as the consent of all three towns.
Ricci said, “I continue to believe that there are ways to smooth out the spikes in enrollment and I encourage all stakeholders to be open to a change in the Chariho Act.”
The latest budget cuts
To reduce the towns' contributions, the committee has approved the application of $379,000 of the district's fund balance to the operating budget, which will leave a fund balance of 2 percent, the minimum required by the state.
Other reductions approved at the third budget workshop were $40,000 from the transportation budget, an additional $50,000 cut from the staffing budget because of retirements and resignations, and a corresponding $100,665 reduction in retirement benefits.
The budget for supplies has been cut by 5 percent, saving the district nearly $34,000. The budget for conferences and workshops was reduced by $4,500. The district will also pay $5,200 less for window shades for the high school and $2,400 less for its contract with Cox Communications.
A key contributor to the Chariho budget is the amount of state transportation aid the district will receive. If fully funded, that category of aid would be $352,000. Ricci said he hoped the money would be included in Gov. Gina Raimondo’s new budget.
“Critical to this process is state aid. We hope to receive updated information over the next week,” he said. Total projected state aid for fiscal 2020, including the transportation aid, is just over $2 million.
The final budget workshop will take place on Jan. 24.