standing Chariho High School

Chariho High School. Sun file photo

RICHMOND — Chariho Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard told elected officials Wednesday that to maintain the current level and availability of services in the coming fiscal year, it would require a more than 6% increase in funding — a request she knows cannot remain as high as it currently stands.

With staffing costs accounting for nearly 83% of the district’s entire annual expenditure and fixed costs including transportation, out-of-district tuition and utilities growing at an alarming rate, Picard said it will be imperative for local legislators to fight for district funding in Providence and towns to work together to address the challenges ahead.

“At 6%, no one realistically believes that is going to be the final number. It can’t be,” Picard said. “With these increases, we are going to need to make tough decisions in order to determine the future of Chariho.”

Tensions built at times Wednesday evening as the Chariho School Committee, town council members from Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton, and state legislators came together for the district’s annual Omnibus meeting, but the general consensus among all involved was that decisions needed to be made to reel in costs, including putting pressure on the state.

The annual meeting, which provides a forum for top municipal and educational leaders to meet to discuss the annual budget and financial aspects of the Chariho Regional School District, lasted about two hours and drew the anticipated concerns regarding the impact the school budget would have on local taxes.

The current spending proposal for the 2023-24 budget includes $58.33 million in spending that would be funded by member towns, which Picard cautioned “absolutely will be reduced” by the School Committee in coming workshops before being presented at referendum. The request comes as the district grapples with significant inflation, a rise in energy costs and Chariho Act spending restrictions.

Without any changes from the School Committee, which will host its third and fourth workshops next week to consider adjustments, the anticipated impact to communities would include a 3% increase for Charlestown residents, a 5.6% increase in liability in Richmond and a 6.1% increase in Hopkinton. The Chariho Act places a 4% cap on increases to any of the three member communities.

According to the Consumer Price Index for 2022, the New England region saw a 6.4% increase in the cost of living. During the previous year, when voters rejected two referendums before the School Committee passed a level-funded budget, the region experienced a 3.6% increase.

Richmond Councilor Michael Colasante and Hopkinton Councilor Scott Bill Hirst were animated in expressing frustrations over the “consistently high spending,” telling school officials that local taxpayers simply could not continue to pay the increase year-over-year. It was a message backed by those in the audience, including Richmond resident Louise Dinsmore.

“Richmond is a town funded 90% by its property owners and these people are now being taxed out of their homes,” Dinsmore said. “For 10 years, residents have given (Chariho) what it asks for without pushing back, but now we need to push back. We can’t afford this.”

Several council members, including Richmond Town Council President Mark Trimmer and Hopkinton Town Council President Michael Geary, also shared concerns regarding rising costs and urged the School Committee and district administrators to consider a range of alternatives.

Hirst and state Sen. Elaine Morgan (R-District 34) called on the committee to allow an independent, outside efficiency study to be conducted — a concept that both Colasante and Geary expressed support for as well — and asked them to consider joining Colasante in his request to form a tri-town subcommittee that would include one councilman for each member town, as well as one School Committee member from each town, to draft a bill for state legislators that would take aim at unfunded mandates.

Colasante presented a request for a full breakdown of mandate-related costs, which Picard and Assistant Superintendent Michael Comella said the district would do its best to provide.

“Whenever we ask about costs, all I keep hearing is that they are due to state mandates, but they do not come with the money it takes to implement them,” Colansante said. “What I am proposing is that any new mandates enacted by the state be funded by the state. That might slow it down or at least make them take a harder look at what they are mandating.”

Other concepts discussed include exploring corporate sponsorships for classes and/or programs, as well as using incentives at the state level rather than mandates.

Despite the criticism of costs, School Committee Chairwoman Catherine Giusti said she was not offended and that members of the committee were in agreement in many ways.

“I can see the look of annoyance and frustration on everyone’s faces and we agree. This is annoying and you should be annoyed by it,” Giusti said. “You should press to change (state funding and mandates); we support that.”

All of the elected legislators who represent Chariho towns were present, with each promising to work toward a better, more equitable state plan that wouldn’t leave smaller districts like Chariho struggling to obtain funding. State Sens. Victoria Gu (38th District) and Morgan and state Reps. Brian Patrick Kennedy (38th), Tina Spears (36th) and Megan Cotter (39th) each said they would continue to work with the district to find solutions.

With tense moments on both sides, School Committee member Andrew McQuaide called on cooler heads to prevail in order to build a “culture of collaboration,” a term used by Colasante earlier in the evening.

“If we want to truly have a culture of collaboration, then you need to be mindful of the language you are using,” he said.

The School Committee is expected to approve a proposed budget on Feb. 7, with a public hearing tentatively scheduled to take place on March 4. The School Committee would then be responsible for approving a final budget to send to referendum on April 4.

For budget documents, visit chariho.k12.ri.us.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.