North Smithfield schools request 4 percent local increase

North Smithfield schools request 4 percent local increase

NORTH SMITHFIELD – North Smithfield school officials are requesting the maximum 4 percent town appropriation increase allowable by law for next year, though Supt. Michael St. Jean says the increase will only maintain the schools’ current level of services without offering additional programs or staff.

The total $26.7 million fiscal year 2020 budget proposal, released last month, represents a 2.16 percent increase over the current fiscal year budget, which translates to a 4 percent increase in the town’s contribution.

In a budget summary released along with the proposal, St. Jean describes the areas where the School Department was able to cut spending for next year’s budget, particularly with the decommissioning of Halliwell Elementary School in June. The reduction in facilities costs will result in about $55,000 in savings, along with cuts in custodian, nursing and special education staff as students consolidate into North Smithfield Elementary and Middle Schools.

The district was also able to reduce some positions due to a projected decline in enrollment for the 2019-2020 school year.

Despite the cuts, said St. Jean, district administrators were not able to recover a loss of funds expected from increasing out-of-district tuition and transportation costs and a reduction in state aid. State aid to North Smithfield is projected to decrease by $224,048 to $5.8 million next year. It will be only the second time in nine years that state aid to the town, dependent on enrollment and property values, decreases rather than increases.

“We’ve been able to bring down the cost of operations, we’re able to bring down the cost of salaries through reducing some positions due to enrollment, but there are other areas that are stripping our ability to offset the cost,” said St. Jean.

A major factor driving the budget, he said, is the increasing costs of tuition and transportation for out-of-district placements in both regular and special education. The number of students seeking out-of-district placements at charter schools or in the career and technical programs of area public schools has increased from 39 students in the 2015-2016 school year to 77 students currently, and is expected to continue to increase next year. A projected $134,000 increase in tuition costs will likely accompany that increase, according to St. Jean.

“We’re not really going to know until the end of this year or even into the summer how many freshman are going to replace those graduating seniors,” he said.

In an effort to combat the exodus of students for other districts’ programs, North Smithfield High School this year introduced three career and technical education programs in music, pre-engineering and business management. The programs are also open to students from other districts, though St. Jean said the new programs have not yet had any sign-ups from out of town.

The district has also seen an increase in recent years in out-of-district special education placements, which can run anywhere from $40,000 to $140,000 per student for tuition, clinical and transportation costs depending on the needs of the child. Special education costs, said St. Jean, are difficult to anticipate, as the movement of a single child or family into or out of town can drastically alter the budget for the upcoming year.

“It’s things that we can try to anticipate, things that we can try to bring kids back and offer the services where we can. But sometimes some students, their needs just outstrip what we can offer in the district,” he said.

Other cost increases anticipated in next year’s budget include contractual increases in bus transportation and teacher salaries.

The maximum increase request hints at a possible repeat of last year’s budget debate, when early budget proposals asked for a 4 percent increase before dropping the request down to 3.4 percent. School and town officials compromised on a 3 percent local increase, a larger amount than was recommended by the Budget Committee.

Several factors still remain unknown for 2019-2020, including class sizes, course enrollments and ongoing negotiations for a new support staff contract.

Comments

Remember, North Smithfield is a blue collar town with residents struggling to pay bills.

TAX ! TAX ! TAX ! TAX ! TAX ! TAX ! When does it end ? My POCKETS are EMPTY !!!!!!!! I wish I could get an increase in my pension every time I ran out of money !!!! This town needs to STOP SPENDING !!!!!!!!! Soon .....and VERY SOON !

Let's review the fact. Per the Ride website North Smithfield's student population is down 4% this year but we need a 4% increase in spending. What are we getting for the additional spending? How can we be maintaining programs when we have a decrease in student population? The state of RI ranks 2nd in New England in spending per student but ranks 5th in New England in test scores. The budget has many places where it can be more fiscally responsible. For example the ASCA recommends that schools strive to maintain a 250:1 student-to-counselor ratio (RI ratio is 350:1) but in NS we have 3 advisors for 503 high school students. In Coventry they have 1475 with one principal and a vice principal in NS we have the same for 503 students. If we were to be creative we could combine the enrollment of the middle school and high school (as it was in the past) for a total of 903 students (much less than Coventry) and we could eliminate a principal at the middle school. The 2 schools are at the same location. We also have too many coaches for each sport and a turf field for a division 4 team where more division 1 teams play on grass which is much cheaper in the long run and better for students bodies. I think if we were more creative and paid for results we could easily reduce the budget and create better results. If we were to read management studies or the book money ball we would find that money does not solve the problem. I am speaking for the taxpayers and not the union. Thank You.

Everyone I know who lives in town has learned how to live within a budget, it's about time the school system does too! We can't afford the ever increases for the school system which just means higher taxes. There are many in town who are on fixed incomes or hardly get an annual raise with ever increasing cost of benefits at work, time to get a grip people!!