ADMINISTRATIVE BUDGET SESSION
MARCH 10, 2021
At an ADMINISTRATIVE BUDGET SESSION of the Town Council and School Committee of the Town of South Kingstown, County of Washington, in the State of Rhode Island, convened via video- and tele-conference, in and for said Town on the 10th day of March 2021 at 6:30 PM.
PRESENT: Town Council
Abel G. Collins, President
Rory H. McEntee, Vice President
Deborah D. Bergner
Deborah J. Kelso
Jessica L. Rose
Emily Cummiskey, Chairwoman
Christie Fish, Vice Chairwoman
Kate M. Macinanti
Also present: Robert C. Zarnetske, Town Manager; Zachary Saul, Finance Director; Linda Savastano, School Superintendent; and Raquel Pellerin, Chief Financial Officer, School Department.
Linda Savastano, School Superintendent begins a presentation on the School Department’s FY2021-2022 Budget. The 72 page School Budget Report is available on the School’s website and contains a narrative, information by school, and answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ’s). Their fiscal management goals are geared to student learning, equity and return on educational investment. A request for proposals has been issued for a performance analysis. The report also addresses projected enrollment, district programmatic goal areas, programmatic pillars, COVID-19 learning loss, and challenges. The School has pursued outside resources, and frozen the budget. No additional personnel are planned, and there may be layoffs.
Raquel Pellerin, Chief Finance Officer reviews the School Department FY2021-2022 projected revenue. The municipal transfer to the school fund proposed at $57,053,074 supports 85% of their budget. State Aid accounts for 8%, Federal Aid accounts for 4%, Local Revenue Sources 2%, and the remainder from grants and donations, and use of fund balance. The School Department Budget General Fund is proposed at $63,026,471. The historical property tax transfer helped offset the loss of State Aid over the past 10 years. Projected expenditures are employee compensation and benefits at $51,464,115, professional and technical services at $1,515,994, purchased property services at $821,783, other purchased services at $11,107,079, supplies and materials at $1,451,109, capital expenditures at $660,536, and miscellaneous expenses at $59,065. The municipal Property Tax Transfer (PTT) provides 90.52% of school funding. Employee compensation accounts for 78.8% of total expenditures. The School Budget for FY2022 requests a 1.89% increase in the PTT or $1,169,142 compared to FY2021. It is proposed to use about $1 million in fund balance. Ms. Pellerin discusses fund balance levels and its use, and Capital Pay As You Go expenses.
The Superintendent reviews projected staffing. The Personal Assignment Submission to the RI Department of Education (RIDE) shows every employee. There has been a decrease of 19 staff over the last 5 years. The average teacher salary is $87,796 and the average certified staff salary is $89,361. Ms. Savastano reviews a comparison to other districts for salaries, budget increases, municipal requests, and use of fund balance.
Discussion ensues relative to contractual, transportation and out of district tuition costs driving the school budget increase. Discussion ensues relative to the number of students attending out of district programs: 51 to Narragansett, 7 to North Kingstown, 29 to Chariho, 16 to The Met, and 85 to Charter Schools.
Councilwoman Bergner comments relative to class size ratios and variants between schools.
Discussion ensues relative to the potential for receiving Federal and State stimulus funds for restricted programs and/or materials.
Council President Collins comments on the relationship between enrollment and staff, and discussion ensues relative to the decline in enrollment being spread across grades and schools, and the effect on reduction of teaching staff.
Council Vice President McEntee inquires about teacher retirements, and discussion ensues relative to teacher retirements and the potential reduction in staff through attrition. The School Superintendent states that layoffs of staff members would be based on programs.
School Committee Vice Chair Fish comments on student teacher ratios and potential redistricting. The Superintendent notes that class size has been affected by pandemic requirements. Redistricting will involve analysis of building utilization and demographics of the population.
School Committee member Boyd-Colvin comments on having a clear plan for staffing and retirements and taking a pro-active approach.
School Committee member Whitford comments on balancing student needs with the obligation to taxpayers. Taxes go up for many reasons besides schools, the learning gap and building issues have existed for decades.
School Committee member Macinanti comments that the Town has been putting money in but the gap still remains; it’s not a money problem, but a program problem.
School Committee Chair Cummiskey comments on the School Committee’s role to be advocates for education. The School Facilities Plan 50% reimbursement rate from RIDE can be realized. The proposed School Budget is transparent and based on equity. Cost increases are due to contractual obligations and inflation. Further cuts in the budget will be programmatic.
Councilwoman Kelso comments that student losses across the district does not equate to eliminating classrooms.
Council President Collins comments that a 2% budget increase is treading water, not closing gaps, the effect of COVID learning loss on the most vulnerable students, the need to address institutional racism in our school system, and expresses his support for the School’s Budget request.
Discussion ensues relative to the School Facilities Plan. The Town Manager notes that the plan is a $42.5 million debt. Debt service will create a 4% tax increase, school increases have to be controlled to be affordable.
Councilwoman Rose comments on the proposed increase in the municipal budget being due to contractual increases, there will be $1 million in cuts to school programs if we don’t support the school budget request.
The Town Manager comments on the comparison of salary increases between teachers and municipal employees causing a widening gap, equity among workers and fairness to taxpayers. The demand for services in town is growing. We are looking at a major investment in the schools that may choke off funding for other municipal programs. Operational savings may offset the demand for future increased funding.
Discussion ensues relative to the use of Federal funds for one-time expenditures, not for long-term programs.
The Town Manager reports that the enabling legislation requested by the Town for the School Facilities Bond Referendum is under consideration by the General Assembly. The Town must submit the local question to the Secretary of State by March 15th for placement on the ballot for an election on May 4th.
Daniel Northup is in attendance and comments on inequalities in the classroom and suggests the DLI program should be offered at all elementary schools.
Greg Sweet is in attendance and comments on enrollment and staff reductions, and the school bond debt service liability and potential operations savings.
Raissa Mosher is in attendance and comments on teacher stipends for additional students in a classroom, and the State Funding Formula.
Brian Nelson is in attendance and speaks in favor of the School Budget request.
Adjourn at 10:43 PM.
Susan M. Flynn, CMC