WOOD RIVER JCT. — Three state legislators, members of the Chariho School Committee, administrators and town council members from Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton gathered at Chariho Tech Wednesday for the school district's annual Omnibus meeting.
Required by the Chariho Act, the meeting was an opportunity for council members to learn more about the proposed $59 million budget for fiscal 2020. As they do every year, representatives from the towns asked the committee to make further budget cuts and asked the lawmakers to lobby for state aid.
The School Committee voted at a budget workshop Tuesday to apply $370,000 of the district’s fund balance to the operating budget, reducing a 1.75 percent increase in the towns’ contributions to 0.96 percent. Two of the towns, Hopkinton and Richmond, have seen their enrollment in the district rise. As a result, their contributions will rise as well, by 4.8 percent for Hopkinton and 3.4 percent for Richmond. Charlestown, which has the fewest children in the district, will see its contribution decline by 4.5 percent. The towns’ shares of the budget are based on the number of their children enrolled in district schools.
Richmond Councilor Richard Nassaney asked Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci if a way could be found to average out the enrollment figures over a five-year period to provide some relief from unanticipated spikes.
“Last night, you were talking about a five-year plan to help eliminate these spikes of children coming in, children leaving, and each town having to worry about these spikes,” he said. “Can you explain how we can look at this issue without creating a big controversy?”
Ricci said, “The only way I know you can do that is to change the act” that created the regional district.
Nassaney suggested that the finance directors from the three towns meet to put together a simulated five-year plan to see what the numbers would be and Ricci agreed to organize a meeting in the coming weeks.
The district’s waste disposal rate was the subject of considerable discussion. As it did last year, Chariho has requested that Charlestown and Richmond allot 340 tons each of their solid waste caps to the district, which would reduce the budget by $36,420. The district is expecting responses shortly from the two towns. Hopkinton sends its trash to Westerly and therefore cannot participate, but Charlestown Councilor Julie Carroccia asked whether Hopkinton had negotiated its contract with Westerly and if the town might join the others in giving a portion to Chariho.
“We were kind enough, the two towns, to allocate our cap,” she said.
“You guys have transfer stations,” Hopkinton council President Frank Landolfi replied. “We’re in an agreement with Westerly. We can’t exceed our cap. We’re already exceeding it and we can’t go any more, so how can we give you more of what we don’t have? We can’t. That’s the way it is.”
Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, Sen. Elaine Morgan, R-Ashaway, and Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy, D-Westerly, answered questions about the perennial issue of state aid. Parts of Chariho towns are in Algiere and Kennedy's districts.
If fully funded, state aid to Chariho would be $352,000 in 2020. The aid was given to the regional school districts when their regionalization bonuses were abolished. However, legislators and district representatives have had to lobby intensively for it for the past several years.
Kennedy said there had been increases in state funding for education, but unfortunately, districts in southern Rhode Island had not benefited from them.
“The General Assembly is now apportioning state education aid based on the new formula that was adopted several years ago,” he said. “The General Assembly and the governor, for her part, have been adding additional dollars in,” he said. “Unfortunately, this area has not been the beneficiary of extra dollars, but we do have categorical regional transportation money, which most other communities do not get.”
Algiere noted that in previous years, he and other lawmakers had introduced legislation that would ensure that the transportation aid was paid to Chariho yearly.
“Every year we fight to get that money and we’ve actually introduced legislation, with Brian and Elaine, to correct the problem so we don’t have to come back every year, fighting with the executive branch," he said.
The School Committee's next budget workshop will take place on Jan. 15. Hopkinton Councilor Barbara Capalbo urged everyone at the meeting to try to attend.
“There are two more budget meetings, and it would be really great if you could come,” she said. “Basically, the school budget is $1.5 million higher than last year and I don’t think that will pass in all the towns. Even if Charlestown votes 100 percent for it, it’s not going to happen in Richmond and Hopkinton. So, this budget needs to be cut … they’re going to need to get closer" — to a $500,000 or $600,000 increase at the most — "for Richmond and Hopkinton citizens to come out and vote for this.”