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School Committee members heard a presentation on the new Chariho budget at the first budget planning workshop on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. Cynthia Drummond, The Westerly Sun

WOOD RIVER JCT. — Unveiled for the first time at a workshop on Thursday, the recommended Fiscal Year 2020 Chariho schools budget contains some unpleasant news for two of the three Chariho towns.

Richmond and Hopkinton have both had increases in student enrollment, the figure on which the towns’ shares of the budget are based, so their contributions will go up. Charlestown, where enrollment has declined, will see a decrease in its contribution.

The $59 million spending plan is an increase of 1.75 percent over the current budget. 

Hopkinton, which saw the largest increase in enrollment, will have a 4.8 percent increase, Richmond will pay 3.4 percent more and Charlestown will see a decrease of 4.5 percent. Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci began his presentation of the budget overview with an acknowledgment that Richmond and Hopkinton were facing steep increases and that the school committee would try to mitigate the fiscal pain.

“To get rid of the elephant in the room, I know that the impact on Hopkinton and Richmond is very high. We know that,” he said. “I will show you some things that I’m doing to try to lessen that, so I don’t want you to think that’s being ignored.”

Ricci went through the highlights of his recommended spending plan, which the School Committee will later adopt. The budget is expected to undergo many changes before it is presented to voters at a referendum in April. 

Hopkinton Town Council members Barbara Capalbo and Sharon Davis and Richmond councilors Richard Nassaney and Nell Carpenter were in the audience, as were the members of the Friends of Chariho advocacy group.

Staffing additions for 2020 are up only slightly. An additional special educator will be hired at the middle school and a half-time mathematics support teacher will be hired at the elementary level.

Legal expenses will be reduced by $68,061 and student counselor expenses will be $28,000 less than in the current budget, the result of the state assuming that function. The district is facing a higher rate for rubbish disposal, the result of new state regulations. As he did last year, Ricci is asking the towns to allocate their surplus rubbish caps to Chariho.

“In the past, Charlestown and Richmond have given us their excess under the cap. We then can qualify for the municipal rate, so we can reduce the budget by over $36,000,” he said.

Hopkinton, which sends its trash to Westerly, cannot participate in the Chariho initiative.

At this time, the biggest unknown facing the district is what, if any relief there will be for public schools in Gov. Gina Raimondo’s state budget, which is expected in the coming weeks.

A perennial issue for Chariho is state aid for transportation, which, if fully funded, would be $352,000 in 2020. The aid was originally allocated to the regional school districts when their regionalization bonuses were taken away, but for several years, the district and its state legislators have had to lobby for the funding. 

Ricci said he had already been to the State House on Jan. 2 with Senate Minority Leader  Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, and Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy, D-Hopkinton, to begin the lobbying process.

“We met with the governor’s staff and pleaded with them to fully fund it,” he said.

Committee members and audience members had general questions about the budget and about individual line items when they began going through them. 

Capalbo read a long list of suggested budget cuts which, she said, would total more than $1 million. Carpenter asked why the budget for groundskeeping, which has been increased by more than $32,000 in the new budget to $98,000, was allocated to the high school, leaving volunteers to care for the elementary school landscaping.

“If we’re even suggesting to spend $100,000, we should be talking care of all of our schools, not just the jewel ,” she said. 

Members of the Friends of Chariho raised questions about class sizes in the elementary schools. 

Elisa Campbell asked whether there would be another third-grade class added to Richmond Elementary School.

“For third grade … will there be another section added in?” she asked. 

“This budget does not add another section,” Ricci said. “But that said, there are five sections of kindergarten budgeted at Richmond next year and typically we run between four and five…so if we didn’t need the fifth section, that teacher could be used.”

Richmond committee member William Day suggested that the district revisit the cost of maintaining two elementary schools in Hopkinton when they might be consolidated into a single school.

“Hopkinton’s going to take a big hit if we have to add another class in Richmond,” he said. “Maybe the thing for Hopkinton to do is to agree that maybe we should be able to move kids around so the classroom sizes are more equal.”

The next budget workshop will take place on Jan. 8.

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