Paolucci proposes capital fund for school improvements

Paolucci proposes capital fund for school improvements

SMITHFIELD – With millions of dollars in needed repairs accumulating at Smithfield High School and Middle School and a fully funded operating budget lacking capital funding, Supt. Judy Paolucci says it is time for the School Department to create a separate capital improvement fund to avoid a bond issue in the future.

Paolucci said at Monday’s School Committee meeting that the town will not fund the $442,819 request for capital improvements for repairs to the high school auditorium including lighting, stage improvements for ADA compliance, and a fresh coat of paint.

Operating costs are being fully funded at $32 million in town appropriations.

Paolucci proposes creating a capital improvement account that will be funded by Rhode Island Department of Education reimbursements for projects paid for from the annual budget or fund balances, a yearly allocation from the town, and any excess above a 4 percent fund balance.

Town allocation could begin at around $280,000, and increase by a set number annually, she said. She recommended $20,000 but said that number could fluctuate each year.

The School Department will be solely responsible for spending from the account, but Paolucci suggested spending no more than 65 or 75 percent of the fund balance each year. As the fund grows, so will the spending cap, she said.

Paolucci said the town is placing responsibility on the schools to find funding to make upgrades and she fears that delaying capital projects will put the district in a hole that will be difficult to escape from.

She said she is disappointed by the cut because she knows the projects that need get done after the auditorium, including bathrooms at both schools and upgrades to the high and middle school libraries.

“If we don’t work on a project every year in this high school, the time will come all too fast for a bond project and I want to put that off as long as possible,” Paolucci said.
Paolucci has drafted a capital funding plan and project that includes all capital projects at the high and middle schools over the next five years. She said using capital reserve funding over bonding has advantages, including a higher bond rating for the town and no payment of interests and fees.

“Of course, there are also arguments against this approach,” she said.

She said funds that could relieve the tax burden will be reserved for future uses, and setting aside projects for future repairs will cost more due to inflation.

“Nevertheless, the establishment of such a fund while also addressing current needs through a bond will serve the town well in future years,” she said.
In the documents, Paolucci said a recent Jacobs report completed during stage two planning for the elementary reconfiguration plan, noted $42 million in priority one and two deficiencies, with another $13 million more to come over the next five years.

The draft proposal includes three pages of improvements at the high school and two pages for the middle school, as well as future repairs needed at the district’s sports fields.

School Committee member Richard Iannitelli said the town has provided capital improvement funding for the schools since 1996, and should continue to provide for the district in years to come.

He said he is concerned about cutting $52,000 in the budget for the JASON Learning Argonaut experience and a high school music teacher.

“I still think these are a couple of things shy,” Iannitelli said of the latest budget.

Paolucci said the town agreed to fund school operating costs completely for a budget of $39 million, including $32.71 million from the town, which is equivalent to a 0.76 percent decrease from fiscal year 2019 to 2020.

“To present a budget for the following year that is less than the current year and not drop programs is impossible. The loss of staff is evident,” she said.

Dozens of students, parents and teachers from the music program attended Monday’s meeting pleading with the School Committee to not make cuts in the high school’s music program. With a $1.4 million loss in state aid, the district made many cuts, including a part-time music teacher.

Many students spoke about a love for music acquired from the music department, emphasizing that many successful theatrical and musical careers have emerged from music education.

Approximately 30 people in the room raised their hands when resident Paul Duhamel asked everyone to give a show of hands if they support the music department.

“I support the music program and encourage you to stay with it,” Duhamel said.

Paolucci reminded those in attendance that a public budget hearing will be held next Tuesday, May 14, at the Smithfield High School Auditorium, starting at 7 p.m., and residents may make a motion to adjust the budget, which will go to a vote.

Comments

If the alledged repairs of what has been noted really do exist...how did they get to that point in the first place?

Neglect? Not performing proper, routine maintenance, etc.

Has the Town, in the past, supplied taxpayer dollars within the School Department's Annual Budgets only to have the School Department SQUANDER those dollars elsewhere?? (This 99% of the time de Rigueur!)

Seems to me, and speaking from experience as a former School Committee Member of a nearby Community, who also served as Chairman of the Building and Properties Sub-Committee, we have seen, and heard, this song played in many communities around this State...one time too many!!

LASTLY: As to the Town of Smithfield's Leadership!

Why are you not wanting to properly maintain, "Your and Your Taxpayer's Buildings"?

Unless the rules are different in Smithfield, then elsewhere, all School Department Buildings and Facilities belong to the Town...they are only "On Loan" to the School Department until such time thete is no longer a need for them...at which time they are turned back over to the Town.

That being the case, and while I can understand Town Officials, maybe, being upset with these issues needing to be addressed (because of past neglect???...and the squandering of previously provided funds) as I am reading this it would appear that the Town will be directly paying for these repairs, upgrades, etc.??

That being the case...then why not do so. They are your buildings. Should you not be proud of them...and maintain them.

Maybe even, going forward, do not every year give the School Department any money within their operating budget for maintenance and repair. Rather, set-up a line item for these needs, as they arise, within the Town's Operating Budget...that way when repairs and maintenance are required on "Your Buildings" the dollars needed will be there, not squandered, and you know the work can and will be done!

Tom Letourneau
Cumberland School Committee & numerous School Building "Building Committees"

the same union that runs the D.O.T. that runs the maint dept. in local schools.