Donovan: There is a lack of transparency in budget

Donovan: There is a lack of transparency in budget

On Tuesday, March 19, the voters and taxpayers of the Foster Glocester Regional School District will be asked to adopt the 2019-2020 budget at the annual district financial meeting.

The proposed budget this time around is just north of $28 million representing a 4.73 percent increase over 2018-2019 spending levels.

The budget that will be presented to voters consists of over 60 pages of detailed financials for voters to consider. Unfortunately, for all the information contained in this document – there is even more information district leadership never discloses as a part of this process.

Education costs account for the largest portion of Foster and Glocester residents’ property tax bill, but you will be asked to give this budget a thumbs up or down without knowing all the facts.

Did you know that for school years FY14-15 through FY18-19, the total number of in-district pupils only grew by 7, but for the same period the number of teaching resources (teachers and aids) grew by 22?

Did you know that for school years FY14-15 through FY18-19, the number of out-of-district students being educated in the district grew from 3 to 165 – and this number is projected to grow again for the FY19-20 school year?

Did you know that for FY18-19, the district projected it would receive $2,257,500 in tuition revenue to educate the 165 out-of-district students being taught in the district? This equates to an average of $13,681 in tuition for each inbound student. This sounds like a great deal, right up until you consider that the districts total expenses for the same period are projected to be $27,136,477 to educate a total of 1,325 students, which equates to a per-pupil cost to the district of $20,408.

So, you are reading this and thinking it just can’t be true. Why would district leadership be increasing capacity at a time when in-district student census numbers have remained effectively flat? Why does leadership continue to add additional out-of-district students and resources to teach them when the mathematical truth is this negatively impacts the taxpayers of the district?

If you ask these questions (as I have), you’ll be told there are other “intangibles” that need to be considered. Additionally, if you question the cost of education per pupil, district management will cite a cost of around 12K per pupil – significantly less than the actual mathematical cost of 20K+. I suspect when the superintendent cites this number, he is referring to the RIDE core instruction component value but can’t say for sure because this too is not spelled out in the budget.

The bottom line on all of this is that there is an inherent lack of transparency in the budget that forces you and I, the voters and taxpayers of the district, to make financial decisions without being provided all the facts.

It is my opinion that this district exists to educate the children of the residents – period, but we now find ourselves in a situation where district leadership and management seem to be expanding the role or purpose of the district and taxpayers are stuck subsidizing this unchecked growth. I would encourage all district voters to attend the upcoming annual district financial meeting and make your voices heard. Lastly, for the sake of full disclosure, I will state that I am Chairman of the Foster Republican Town Committee, but this letter reflects my opinion as a taxpayer in the district only and may not represent the opinion of the committee as a whole.

Kevin Donovan

Foster

Chairman of the Foster Republican Town Committee

Editor’s note: Foster-Glocester Supt. Michael Barnes says the writer’s analysis “co-mingles funds from multiple sources,” leading him to draw erroneous conclusions about the district’s finances. See the superintendent’s perspective on page 7.