In face of public outcry, council agrees to fund music teacher

In face of public outcry, council agrees to fund music teacher

SMITHFIELD – Dozens of supporters attending Tuesday’s public budget hearing succeeded in their bid to get the Town Council to supply an additional $28,000 to help fund a full-time music teacher, but the victory was tempered a bit when the council then moved to cut $203,000 from the schools’ Chromebook initiative.

Town Council President Suzy Alba requested to approve the money to specifically fund the Music Department position contingent on a commitment from the School Committee. The School Committee agreed, and the motion was approved 5-0 to a round of cheers from the audience.

Supporters of the funding for music teacher Katherine Young took up five rows of seating in the Smithfield High School auditorium Tuesday night. One student waved a sign stating, “We will be in treble without the music department.” Another was more succinct: “Save the music.”

After public comment ended, the council made adjustments to the budget that included a $203,000 decrease in funding for the Chromebook initiative. Factoring in the money for the music teacher’s salary, the schools’ budget was cut a total of $175,000.

Councilor Sean Kilduff said the School Department has gotten by supplying Chromebooks to students at around $200,000 each year, and the remaining balance of $150,000 will be enough to keep the program going this year.

After a budget cut of $1.4 million in state aid to the schools, the town level-funded operation costs for the $39 million school budget. The school budget reduces staff by one world language, one science and one math teacher at the high school, a part-time social worker and consumer sciences teacher, one secretary from the central office and another from the high school.

More than 20 people lined up to speak to the council on the benefits of the Music Department, pleading with council to give the additional funding.

Music Booster Club member Michelle Manning-Pereira said interest in the music program has nearly doubled among students. She made the motion to add the funding to the school budget.

“It’s a large benefit to our town overall,” Manning-Pereira said.

Town Manager Randy Rossi said the town and Town Council support the School Department, and town appropriation is increasing $1 million, or a 3.27 percent in fiscal year 2020.

Kilduff said he was astonished that a school budget of $39 million could not cover an additional $28,000 to pay for less than half the salary of a music teacher.

“This is an obvious mismanagement of money,” he said.

Kilduff said he does not think anyone wants to see a music teacher laid off and recommended the School Department use money from the remaining fund balance to pay for the music teacher.

Supt. Judy Paolucci said the School Committee made budget cuts across the board to reduce spending. She said considering the schools were dealing with a decrease in state aid and increasing salaries, health insurance and utilities, she believed there was nowhere else to cut.

“It’s not mismanagement. It’s really poor judgment to call it that,” she said.

Other motions made during the hearing included increasing funding to both public libraries by $20,000, a motion made by Town Councilor Maxine Cavanagh.

The Financial Town Meeting to finalize all aspects of the town’s budget is June 13, starting at 7 p.m. at Smithfield High School.