RICHMOND — With large increases in operating expenses as a result of inflation and energy costs and a zero-increase budget in the current school year, a reasonable increase in spending will be needed in the coming fiscal year in order for the Chariho School District to maintain its current level of programming, staffing and student success, school officials said Tuesday.
Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard presented members of the School Committee with a $58.33 million spending proposal for the 2023-24 budget on Tuesday evening as the district formally kicked off annual budget deliberations during a special workshop. The proposal is marked by cost increases outside district control, Picard said, and would represent a 6.64% increase in spending in the coming year.
“This year we are working to create a new District Strategic Plan that ensures we continue on a path of success. Our plan will be focused on continuing to offer our students a high-quality and rigorous public education,” Picard said. “It is important to note that the economic situation in our nation and state creates a challenge with the budget. However, we remain committed to building a budget that meets the needs of our students.”
For the district, financial challenges haven’t slowed progress. Picard and fellow administrators on Tuesday praised the district for what it has accomplished in spite of adjustments for COVID-19 in recent years and the zero-increase budget a year ago.
The district has three Blue Ribbon elementary schools, which are ranked top 10 in the state by U.S. News & World Report; Chariho Regional Middle School is ranked in the top 25 middle schools in Rhode Island and Chariho Regional High School is ranked in the top 10 among all Rhode Island high schools.
In a year following a contentious election that saw Hopkinton and Richmond each elect considerable new representation to the School Committee — Republicans Tyler Champlin, Polly Hopkins, Larry Phelps, Kathryn Colasante and Patricia Pouliot will all be part of budget discussions for the first time — Picard knows she has her work cut out for her convincing local communities.
She told members of the committee inflation accounts for a considerable percentage of the increase, with contractual obligations also a large factor. The lack of any increase at all in the 2022-23 budget also makes limiting the request in the coming year especially difficult, Picard said.
“It is important to note that inflation has had a significant impact on our budget. The New England region reports a 6.4% overall Consumer Price Index increase for the past year,” she said in a cover letter included with her proposal. “Prior to your receipt of this budget, I’ve already made reductions totaling $587,064 from that which was requested.”
Annual inflation for the New England region was also 3.6% for 2021.
For the district, 83% of the overall budget goes to staffing-related obligations. Health care costs have continued to rise, with the district currently enrolling 378 employees in plans that account for $6.27 million in spending, or 10% of the district’s overall budget. Fuel and electricity, out-of-district transportation, supply costs and capital projects including the Chariho Tech roof and safety enhancements to doors, windows and cameras account for other cost increases in the '23-'24 fiscal year.
Champlin said following the election that he hopes to focus heavily on operational efficiencies and would like to reduce the budget further. Discussions began following the initial presentation on Tuesday and the School Committee will continue to hold budget workshops throughout the month of January.
“Some of the priorities in the coming year include creating student service structures that build upon our current work and ensuring access to opportunities that will accelerate learning and close achievement gaps,” Picard said.
The School Committee will hold budget workshops through the month of January and the committee will also host members of the Charlestown, Hopkinton and Richmond town councils during the district’s annual Omnibus meeting, which is scheduled for Jan. 18.
If all goes according to plan, a tentative budget proposal would be approved by the School Committee on Feb. 7; the annual district meeting and public hearing would be held March 4; a final budget proposal would be adopted by the committee on March 14, and a budget referendum would be held on April 4.
For more information, including a copy of the proposed budget and related documents, visit the budget information page of the Chariho School District website at https://www.chariho.k12.ri.us/central_administration/business_office/budget_information.