WOOD RIVER JCT.— About 100 residents of Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton attended Tuesday’s public hearing in the middle school auditorium on the proposed 2020 Chariho schools budget.
With a quorum requirement of at least 25 residents from each town, Moderator Charles Beck of Charlestown announced 10 minutes after the scheduled 7:30 p.m. start that Hopkinton had squeaked by with 25; Charlestown had 42 people in attendance, Richmond 45.
Residents also approved a proposal for a new Chariho Field House, to be named for Chariho senior and star athlete Maddie Potts.
Almost all the questions on the $52.5 million budget came from Hopkinton Town Council members. Of the three towns, Hopkinton, which had an increase in enrollment of 21 students, will see the steepest rise in its contribution — 3.2 percent, or $605,000. Richmond’s share of the spending plan will rise by 1.75 percent, while Charlestown, with a decrease in enrolled students, will see its share decline by 6.1 percent.
Hopkinton Town Council member Barbara Capalbo said she hoped that the school district would reduce the budget accordingly if projected pension and health care costs turn out to be less than budgeted for.
“We would like to ask you to cut your budget further before the April 9th vote,” she said. “In specific, I am hoping that Susan Rogers will receive the true numbers for your pension and health care portion of the Chariho budget and if that comes in lower than you are anticipating, that you will reduce the budget by that amount.” Rogers is the school district's finance director.
Hopkinton council member Sharon Davis presented School Committee members with a printed list of reductions that she said would further reduce the budget by $125,155.
“Listed below are several specific line items for your consideration,” she told the committee. “I only have seven line items, and in all but one case, you did reduce those line items, but I’m asking for more.”
In most cases, Davis’ proposed reductions to items such as officials, referees and groundskeeping would still leave the district with more in the new budget than it has ever previously spent.
Thomas Gentz, former president of the Charlestown council, congratulated the district on keeping the projected budget increase to 0.11 percent. He also recalled a year in which Charlestown’s contribution went up by $575,000 because it had five more schoolchildren in the district. “So this is not unusual,” he said, referring to this year's changes.
Richmond Councilor Richard Nassaney also addressed the fluctuating enrollment issue, urging residents in the three towns to reach a consensus on reopening the Chariho Act to allow for five-year rolling enrollment calculations, which would eliminate contribution spikes.
“I hope that we can do this as three separate towns to give you guys the ability to make the right change, so we can go forward so that it benefits every single one of us, and I hope that it works,” he said. “We’re going to fix this. It’s just going to take time and it’s going to take everybody to come to the table and act like adults.”
School Committee Chair Ryan Callahan said the committee would consider the suggestions that had been made during the hearing.
“I appreciate Sharon Davis’s diligence in providing additional paperwork to revisit,” he said. “We’ll look at it again. We have one final School Committee meeting in which we can act on the budget before it goes to voters.”
The budget referendum is on April 9.
Maddie Potts field house
On a voice vote, residents approved a warrant item for a new Chariho field house. The facility, which will be built with contributions from the Maddie Potts Foundation, will not require any taxpayer money, but the Chariho Act requires that the project receive approval from all three towns before it can move forward.
Potts, the captain of the girls soccer team, collapsed on the field during a game on Sept. 24, 2017, and later died. Her parents, Stephanie and Dan Potts, started a charitable foundation in Maddie's name, and its most ambitious project so far has been raising money for a new field house, which is expected to cost $500,000.
The Chariho Sports Boosters are leading the campaign. Boosters’ Vice President John Dobson explained that the field house would feature a new concession stand, which the Boosters use to raise funds to support Chariho athletics; indoor restrooms, and locker rooms for sports teams. He also noted that it would be a way to memorialize Maddie Potts.
“Out of her death has come a lot of positive things and this is just a continuation of that,” Dobson said. “It’s something that will be here long after I’m gone, long after Dan and Steph are gone.”
Capalbo and Davis asked whether taxpayers would have to pay for the maintenance of the field house.
Dobson said the district would save $3,500 per year by not having to rent portable restrooms, and Stephanie Potts said the Potts foundation would maintain the building.
After the vote, Potts said she was relieved that there had been a quorum and that the proposal had been approved.
“I didn’t think we were going to get enough people there for a minute,” she said.
Dobson said the building committee’s work could now begin in earnest.
“We’ve got to find an architect. We’ve got to find a contractor and put stuff on paper — budget, plans, drawings,” he said.