School board approves new stipends, reduces budget by $348K

School board approves new stipends, reduces budget by $348K

NORTH SMITHFIELD – The School Committee has reduced the district's 2018 budget by some $348,000 to work within figures approved by the Town Council at the end of June.

And under a plan devised by Supt. Michael St. Jean and Business Manager Lisa Marcotte, almost no cuts were made to staffing or programs. The district was able to increase spending on stipends for two teachers by a total of $12,500, and to set aside funding of $25,000 for programs including We the People and DECA.

The district's new $25,311,775 budget includes salary and benefit increases by $122,345 for the recently approved North Smithfield Association of Support Staff contract. New staff approved at the School Committee's last meeting includes two part-time math interventionists at a cost of $32,741 and $32,386, and a part-time grounds/maintenance person at a cost of $30,973. The adjusted budget adds $47,259 for lab and science equipment, and $20,000 for new furniture for students in grades 1 and 2.

It's $745,689 less than the district initially requested December.

Reductions to reconcile the plan with revenue for 2018, meanwhile, focus almost entirely on anticipated expenses, such as health insurance premiums, legal fees, transportation and out-of-district tuitions. The department added $295,824 in planned spending for the year through the line item for "turnover," money saved when an employee retires.

In total, the committee reduced anticipated line item expenses by $704,120, but added new costs to the budget to the tune of $355,883.

According to Committee Chairman James Lombardi, the big fluctuation illustrates the problem with the charter-mandated process of submitting a budget to the town in December, when not all figures are known.

"Although the school department makes every effort to be as accurate as possible, it is not unusual to have the budget change when additional information is obtained," said Lombardi. "It’s unrealistic to get all of the projections 100 percent accurate when there are so many uncontrollable and unknown variables."

Lombardi thanked the council for "properly funding" the School Committee this year. The $355,833, or 2.5 percent increase to the local allocation, follows several years of level funding from the town.

"After discussions with the superintendent and business manager, we believe we can manage the budget at that level," Lombardi said.

The district's new budget takes into account the recent $30,000 buyout of two top-step teachers, Claire O'Hara and Kathy Lake, as a one-time incentive to retire this year. That decision precedes an anticipated Superior Court decision on whether O'Hara's dual role as teacher and Town Councilor was in violation of the Town Charter.

St. Jean and committee member Jean Meo congratulated the teachers on the move.

"Between the two of them they have 66 years. And that's 66 years of dedication to our school system and our students," said Meo.

The stipends, meanwhile, amount to raises for two of the district's music teachers. Under a change approved by the committee earlier in the month, the high school choral director's stipend has increased from $1,500 to $10,000 and the middle school band director's has risen from $2,000 to $6,000.

St. Jean had recommended a lesser change, from $1,500 to $6,000 and $2,000 to $4,000 respectively.

"These two stipends have been the same for a decade, so I'm recommending making a change," said St. Jean. "I chose $6,000 because right now that's the highest we can (raise it.) We're moving into some unchartered areas. Both of these programs are statewide, nationally recognized programs of excellence."

It was Meo that made a motion in favor of the larger increases.

"I am not spendthrift, but I am willing to spend money on programs that benefit the students, the school system, and bring pride to this community," Meo said. "We have an award winning program."

The larger stipends were approved by a vote of 5-2 with members Art Bassett and Merredythe Nadeau voting against the change.

Lombardi noted that by the time the Town Council took up the budget last month, the School Department had reduced its request from the town from the initial 4 percent, to 3.2 percent.

"Although it looks like a large immediate reduction, there is a running list of changes from the time we send the budget to the Town Council to the time we present to them," Lombardi said.

He said that the increases passed in the final budget amount to funding for programs and items, "that the superintendent needed to move the district forward."

"We believe this is a responsible budget for both the taxpayers and children."

Editor's note: The above article has been edited from its original version, which erroneously stated that the stipends were raised to $6,000 and $4,000, as recommended by St. Jean. We have added information on Meo's move to increase the stipends, and the final vote, and apologize for the error.

Comments

It seems committee member Meo is well versed on how to spend taxpayers money.

Is some kind of new math being taught at NS schools. How do you reduce the budget but increase spending on teachers and stipends.

Mr. Lombardi needs to understand budgets. Budgets are done well in advance of the begining of the year so plans can be put in place before the year begins. Determining a budget when the year begins allows for very little time io make structural changes. A budget is to determine plans for the future. In the state of Massachuetts budgets are due to legislatures by the fourth Wednesday in January. This means that departments need to be submitted months prior to the submission. Doing a budget in December allows for enough time to vet and research budget alternatives. Not being able to produce a budget in December shows a lack of knowledge of expenditures and future expectations. Let's face the facts the budget is 80% salaries and benefits and are easily predictable. Also why are we adding more staff when enrollment is declining. Must be some more of the new math or union math. Amazing how good the math is in NS when it comes to salary but not so good in analyzing data and the taxpayers.