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 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 reviews a summary of all revenues and expenditures. A level tax rate at $14.45 per thousand is proposed, a tax levy increase of 1.3% over FY2020-2021, the elimination of new positions, reduction of health care and OPEB costs, use of undesignated fund balance, and an increase in stipends for board and commission members. The Property Tax Transfer to the Schools is proposed to be level funded at $55,994,773, with quarterly reviews that would allow for possible supplemental appropriations
Discussion ensues relative to potential federal grants. The School Department ESSER Fund II allocation through the RI Department of Education (RIDE) is expected to be $1,344,338. ESSER Fund III under the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) is anticipated to provide $2,368,000. Guidance from the federal government and RIDE is expected in May. The concern is to not get into long term deficit. 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 three years.
Linda Savastano, School Superintendent provides a FY2022 School Budget update.
Raquel Pellerin, School CFO notes the budgetary variance between the Town Council and School Committee budget, and slight variances in State Aid revenue of $1.1 million. The expenditures reduction to staff in the General Fund are being moved to ESSER funds. The new ESSER fund will direct 75% to address learning loss and summer programs, 25% will be left to deal with COVID. The School budget includes health care cost reductions, staff reductions, and transportation to arrive at a variance of $468.000.
Council President Collins discusses how to possibly fund the additional $468,000 for the School Budget, and tax abatements for the South Kingstown Housing Authority and Jonnycake Center in the amount of $30,000.
Discussion ensues relative to kindergarten enrollment. Registration is slow, but the School is planning for the same level as the current year.
Discussion ensues relative to the feedback received from RIDE regarding the Town’s Stage II application for the School Facilities Plan. RIDE’s preliminary review lists areas of questions that the School Department must provide answers to by April 28th. Final approval by the State is expected in mid-May.
Discussion ensues relative to transportation for out of district and CTE students. The School will try to combine routes with neighboring districts to reduce a portion of the costs. Statewide transportation costs could go up by 8 to 13%. The Town would have to ask the State for a waiver of bus routes if local bus transportation is cheaper.
Discussion ensues relative to the issuance of bonds for the school facilities project, if the voters approve the referendum question on May 4th. Bonding would be dependent on when contracts are signed and the construction schedule. It is anticipated that the first year would be interest only payments.
Councilwoman Bergner comments on the RIDE preliminary review questions, and the potential for 5% bonuses for the school facilities construction project.
Andrew Henneous, School Solicitor cautions that the bond issue is not on the Agenda, and cautions the School Committee against answering questions regarding the bond.
Council President Collins notes that the Town is considering debt in the coming years, debt service has implications on this budget.
The Town Manager notes that the Town is looking at the long term budgetary environment. The RIDE questions are embedded in set categories of the application.
Councilwoman Kelso comments on the RIDE report, and notes that formal State Building Authority (SBA) formal judgment will be made on or about May 17th. The School Facilities Bond referendum is predicated on the Town vote and SBA approval.
Discussion ensues relative to the RIDE Preliminary Review being made available to the Council members, and the Town Manager presents the report on the screen. It will also be posted on the School website and sent to the Town Council members.
Greg Sweet is present and comments on municipal projects that could be federal grant eligible, such as roads and HVAC for fresh air in buildings, and whether the School’s answers to the RIDE questions will be posted on their website.
Raissa Mosher is present and comments that all information related to the School facilities project should be shared on the SKSD build website, and notes that the Town vote ahead of RIDE approval is concerning.
Dorald Beasley is present and comments on the Property Tax Transfer to the Schools, declines in enrollment and student achievement.
Council President Collins notes that the Town has seen declines in State Aid to Education for the past 10 years, school operations and keeping pace with inflation, and school performance issues. He comments that a 0% tax rate increase may not be good financial planning.
Councilwoman Bergner comments on disparities in income, the lack of a Town Fire Department and trash pickup, maintaining the level of good education in Town and the potential for supplemental funding for the Schools.
School Committee Vice Chair Fish comments that using standardized testing scores as a comparison shouldn’t totally define us.
Greg Sweet comments that the tax burden is a hardship for residents.
Council President Collins responds.
School Committee Member Whitford comments that this is the third year with no tax increase, we are asking the schools to hold their costs, but don’t jeopardize education. People who buy a home make that choice and know what it entails.
Councilwoman Bergner comments in favor of level funding the Schools, with the option for supplemental appropriations.
School Committee Member Whitford notes that the Town still has an obligation to educate its students.
Dorald Beasley comments on the School funding formula, inflation, COLA and unemployment in South Kingstown.
Councilwoman Bergner comments on ways to vote for the School Bond Referendum scheduled for May 4th.
UNANIMOUSLY VOTED: to close the Public Hearing.
UNANIMOUSLY VOTED: to adjourn at 8:52 PM.
Susan M. Flynn, CMC