HOPKINTON — Members of the Town Council agreed at their Monday meeting to send a letter to the four Hopkinton members of the Chariho School Committee, inviting them to attend the next council meeting to discuss the proposed schools budget.
A letter, proposed and drafted by councilor Scott Bill Hirst, will be sent to committee members Sylvia Stanley, Catherine Giusti, George Abbott and Lisa Macaruso.
The district’s proposed Fiscal Year 2020 spending plan has been reduced, over several budget workshops, to $52.5 million, a 0.15 percent, or $77,000, increase over the current budget.
The budget contains bad news for Hopkinton, however. The three towns’ contributions are based on enrollment, and Hopkinton’s share will rise by 3.2 percent, the result of an increase of 21 students from the town enrolled in Chariho schools. Richmond will pay 1.75 percent more and Charlestown, with fewer children in the district, will pay 6.1 percent less.
“The school budget impacts member towns differently, and as you know, the Chariho budget impacts the town of Hopkinton so much that the Chariho school budget is taking much more of our town taxes,” Hirst said. “That impacts not only the taxpayers who are paying the taxes but also town government itself, whether it’s police, public works or other agencies of town government.”
As he has in previous years, Hirst proposed an independent management study of the district’s spending.
“One of my issues through the years is that an outside management study would identify the spending of the school department from an outside view. Somebody that knows something about running schools could make a recommendation,” he said.
Council member Sharon Davis said it would be too late for the meeting with committee members, or a study, to have an impact on the proposed budget. The public budget hearing will take place on March 5.
“They’re coming on February 19 and you want to talk about an outside management study,” she said to Hirst. “That outside management study will not affect this budget.”
Hirst said the committee could still add a line item for the management study, the cost of which is yet to be determined.
“The school committee has the power to move the budget line items around,” he said. “In addition to that, even after they take the input on March 5th, that’s that final budget that goes to the voters in April, if they’re so inclined, they can still put in a line item for a management study.”
In addition to a management study, the council also discussed a forensic audit of the school district, which, councilor Barbara Capalbo warned, would be expensive.
“A forensic audit could be $100,000. It’s a lot of money,” she said.
“It’s not that much,” council President Frank Landolfi noted.
Hirst said the council needed to take action on behalf of Hopkinton’s taxpayers.
“The school department has a lot of money to move around and do certain things, but the town does not have the luxury the school department has because they get so much money to do things,” he said. “I think the statistics of where we’re going from this year to next year, percent of our town tax dollars is going to increase for the schools and it’s going to decrease for the general government of the town…Does anybody have anything to add to this letter? Otherwise, I make a motion to send it.”
“I’d just like to have it re-written,” Capalbo said.
The council agreed to send a re-written letter to the four committee members, inviting them to the Feb. 19 council meeting.