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Sun file photo

WESTERLY — The guidance department at Westerly High School will be reduced from four to three counselors and a vacant districtwide physical education teacher position will not be filled as part of an effort to address a deficit in the School Committee's 2021-22 budget, which goes into effect on July 1.

A vacancy in the guidance department created by a counselor's retirement will not be filled, according to Cindy Kirchhoff, the district's director of finance and operations. She proposed the move to the School Committee during a meeting on Wednesday as part of package of recommendations that reduced the deficit by a net amount of $525,115. The district will also not fill a district physical education teacher vacancy, also created by a retirement.

The School Committee unanimously approved all of Kirchhoff's recommendations.

Kirchhoff, Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau and the School Committee have been steadily chipping away at the deficit, which started at about $1 million after the Town Council approved an increase of just $600,000 in the annual appropriation of local tax dollars for education in the budget. The School Committee had sought a $1.61 million increase in the local appropriation.

A reduction of state aid of about $220,000 also contributed to the deficit, school officials say.

The budget changes approved Wednesday also include costs related to establishment of a new clinical support program for the district's special education students. Creation of the program will allow the district to teach more  students in the district rather than the students attending school out of the district and lead to a $365,840 reduction in out of district tuition.

Part of the reduction will be offset by the need to hire an additional social worker and an additional special education teacher at Westerly High School.

The committee also approved creation of an additional part-time custodian position for the transportation garage and the Transition Academy.

Additional savings of $172,000, Kirchoff said will be realized in the cost of employee fringe benefits due to the retirement of 11 teachers. Those vacancies will be filled, Kirchhoff said. Retirements of non-teachers in the district who accepted retirement incentives will require $36,700 that was not anticipated in the approved budget, Kirchhoff said.

The deficit now stands at $97, 014. The budget must be balanced by July 1, the start of the district's new fiscal year.

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