WESTERLY — Westerly Middle School's teaching staff will be reduced by two and the school district's transportation department will shrink under recently enacted steps aimed at reducing a budget deficit for 2021-22.
The School Committee voted unanimously during a meeting on Wednesday to approve budget adjustments recommended by the district's director of finance and operations, Cindy Kirchhoff. In all, the adjustments represent a reduction of $305,552, leaving the district's 2021-22 budget deficit at $622,129. The committee had previously authorized $77,095 in cuts from the original deficit of $1 million.
The School Committee had sought an increase of $1,610,958 in the local tax dollar allocation, but the Town Council approved just a $600,000 increase. State aid is estimated to decrease by $220,095. The combination of the council's action and the state aid decrease left the school district with a $1,004,778 deficit.
The reductions made on Wednesday include the elimination of a math/science teacher and a social studies/English language arts teacher at the middle school. Both positions are currently vacant and will be eliminated as part of teacher team restructuring at the school, Kirchhoff said.
The school district will also eliminate a bus route, leading to the elimination of both a bus driver and a bus monitor position. A vacant transportation bus aide job will also be eliminated.
The committee also approved eliminating a budget line item for curtains at Westerly High School's Babcock Hall. The curtains as well as upgrades to the auditorium's sound and lighting systems will be paid for with funds from the current budget that will be transferred to cover the costs. The funds had been earmarked in the current budget for classroom furniture ($25,608), technology hardware ($50,234), a science teacher's salary ($59,900) and the teacher's fringe benefits ($15,942).
Two additions to the 2021-22 budget — $24,429 for charter school tuition and $18,708 to cover salary adjustments and stipends for unified sports coaches — were also approved by the committee.
The committee also approved three teacher and school nurse non-renewal notices. State law requires school districts to notify employees by June 1 if the district anticipates potentially not renewing their contracts. The teachers affected are a part-time music teacher, a full-time school nurse, and a part-time school nurse. Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau said the notifications are related to the budget deficit. "In order to fill the $1 million gap we have to make some cuts. That is what precipitates us making this move tonight," Garceau said.
The individuals on the non-renewal list could be called back depending on final budget decisions, Garceau said.
The budget, by state law, must be in balance by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.