PRESENT: Abel G. Collins, President
Rory H. McEntee, Vice President
Deborah D. Bergner
Deborah J. Kelso
Jessica L. Rose
The Pledge of Allegiance is given.
Roll Call is taken and all members are present.
The following members of the School Committee are present: Emily Cummiskey, Chairwoman, Christie Fish, Vice Chair, Melissa Boyd, Michelle Brousseau, Katherine Macinanti, Sarah Markey, and Paula Whitford.
Also present: Robert C. Zarnetske, Town Manager; Zachary Saul, Finance Director; Linda Savastano, Superintendent; Raquel Pellerin, Chief Financial Officer, School Department; Andrew Henneous, School Solicitor; and Colleen Camp, Executive Assistant.
A. Notice having been duly given, a Public Hearing, with School Committee participation is held relative to the Town Council’s Preliminary Budget for FY 2021-2022 as adopted on March 22, 2021. This Public Hearing will address all funds contained within the Town Council’s Preliminary Budget.
The Town Manager reviews the difficulty of the budget process this year. The objectives for this evening’s meeting are to review the preliminary budget, review amendments and changes made by the Town Council, summarize outstanding issues, and solicit public comment about the FY 2021-2022 budget.
The Town Manager is recommending consideration of the following:
1) No tax rate increase at $14.45 per thousand
2) Tax levy at 1.3% increase over FY2020-2021
3) Property Tax Transfer to the Schools level funded at $55,994,773
4) Elimination of new positions, reduction of health care rate increase assumption from 6% to 4%, reduction of the OPEB request by $50,000, and use of an additional $440,000 in unassigned fund balance
5) Quarterly reviews that would allow for possible supplemental appropriations to the schools
The schools may receive grants from the ESSER Fund II through the RI Department of Education (RIDE), and from the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP). The federal county-based aid to municipalities is anticipated to provide $6 million to the Town and $3 million to the schools over the next few years.
Linda Savastano, School Superintendent provides a School Budget update. The School Department has worked in a freeze environment, and have been operating in-person learning throughout most of the year. Within this goals-based budget they are working on the achievement gap and summer programs.
Discussion ensues relative to State Aid for Education, the high cost of special education and group home aid. Discussion ensues relative to the ESSER 3 and ESSER 2 grants. Of the $1.3 million grant, 50% must be used for equity programs and 25% must be designated for summer activities. The FY2021-2022 proposed budget reconciliation indicates a budget variance of $468,560.
Discussion ensues regarding the School Budget unknowns, including bus transportation, special education, and social distance limitations in classrooms.
Raquel Pellerin, School CFO discusses the potential for bus transportation savings by requesting the State to allow a cooperative waiver that would permit school districts to combine routes for out of district students. It is unknown if the State will allow an increase in ridership on school buses.
Discussion ensues relative to the bus transportation policies. Elementary school students are bussed if they live more than a half mile from school, higher grades are bussed if they live over a mile away. Discussion ensues relative to levels of safety concerns for students walking or biking to school, and bike path use.
Discussion ensues relative to school positions related to COVID being part of budget staffing reductions.
Discussion ensues relative to the use of Undesignated Fund Balance (UFB). The Finance Director reports that the municipal UFB was about $16 million at the FY2020 year end, an amount that is within the Town’s policy and best practices. The School CFO reports that the School has about $3 million in UFB, some of which is restricted. Discussion ensues regarding restricted funds.
Discussion ensues relative to school programs to address COVID learning loss. Summer learning programs are planned, targeted instruction, K-7 boost, IEP, math and literacy programs, senior projects, and support for AP readiness.
Discussion ensues relative to the use of federal grant funding. RIDE guidelines include new programs to address COVID learning loss, preventing, preparing for and responding to COVID 19, addressing air quality in schools. Expenditures have to be linked to goals.
Discussion ensues relative to the increase of about $800,000 in undesignated funds to balance the municipal budget.
Raissa Mosher is present and inquires if any of the COVID grant money could be designated for Senior Class activities as a social/emotional support for those students.
Dorald Beasley is present and comments on the use of last year’s Senior Class funds and whether American Rescue funds will have restrictions.
The Town Manager notes that the ARP funds are thought to be flexible, but we are awaiting guidance from the Treasury Department
The School Superintendent notes that the school held a COVID-style graduation last year and produced a video on DVD for each student.
UNANIMOUSLY VOTED: to close the Public Hearing.
UNANIMOUSLY VOTED: to adjourn at 8:48 PM.
Susan M. Flynn, CMC