School board submits $6 million increase in next year's spending

School board submits $6 million increase in next year's spending

This is an update to last week's story about school budget planning.
CUMBERLAND – School Committee members never did take a vote on their new budget Monday night, but they did unite 6 to 1 behind the decision to "submit" to Finance Director Brian Silvia their Fiscal Year 2015 budget that contains a $6 million increase to local taxpayer support.

The move keeps the school board in compliance with the town charter that calls for their budget by the first Monday of April.

And, to school board members , it means next year's budget - if approved by the Town Council - would hike the investment in students to the never-before-seen levels they contend are called for the new state funding formula .

While the current year's budget was approved at $57.57 million in spending, this new budget tops out at $63.48 million. Some 42 positions were added, from music teachers, computer technicians and psychologists and sociologists, to math and language interventionists, science teachers and many more, after the school board asked Supt. Philip Thornton for a BEP-compliant budget.

It was an angry-sounding Jeff Mutter, vice chairman of the school board, who on Monday urged the submission, rather than a vote. He's still smarting over his question asked, but never answered: Does Finance Director Silvia think Cumberland schools are investing enough dollars to be compliant with the state's Basic Education Plan?

Mutter raised the question almost a month ago at a joint meeting between between elected school and town officials. Town Council members responded with puzzlement but no one ever did give him a reply, he says.

Now he says Silvia's response to the budget will provide the response.

"I'm recommending formal submission to finance director," said Mutter told the school board members gathered Monday for a special meeting. "I'm clearly not asking anyone to take an opinion on it. Just submit it."

Town officials can indicate they are comfortable with the town's investment in schools, he said, by simply deleting the added funding.

It's listed in a single $4.34 million revenue line item titled "BEP compliance" and correlated spending items are marked in bold within the budget. There's also an added $1.5 million in local dollars that was part of an original budget first drafted Thornton.

Only member Mark Fiorillo, representing Valley Falls, voted against sending the expanded document to Silvia. Fiorillo said the discussion was coming late in the budget process and felt too rushed.

BEP is a reference to a state funding statute that requires local communities to ante up their share of just under $9,000 a year per student. In Cumberland, 60 percent is supposed to come from local dollars and 40 percent from the state. But while the state continues to increase funding to reach that goal, Cumberland's local funding gap is actually growing, school board leaders contend.

Business Manager Alex Prignano pinned the gap at $4.34 million this year, based on 2013 spending.

Mutter admitted he's not expecting much from Town Hall.

"I could go on and on about that, but the feeling for me is quite simple - you stay in compliance (with the BEP) by submitting it. I remain ever hopeful that there'll be discussion on the issue but I am fully cognitive of the fact there may never be. If it's chosen to be ignored, it will be ignored and that's the way it will be."

Members did mention that Mayor Daniel McKee, who championed the state funding formula that include the BEP, is on the agenda for Thursday's regular school board meeting to discuss the implications of the BEP mandate.

Mutter, who is a former Town Council president, reminded school board members that their action on every school budget is overridden by the final Town Council vote in early June. He suggested it's the school board's reconciliation vote afterward that really matters.

Just a handful of onlookers turned up to watch the discussion Monday and none asked to speak. School board members noted the revised budget has been on the School Department's website for several days.

Said Chairwoman Lisa Beaulieu, "This is obviously this is a challenge for all us. We're pushed up against statute and a charter and a funding formula.
This is a very unconventional way we're delivering the budget and that doesn't mean it's wrong. We put a lot a lot of thought and want to continue the dialogue."

Underscoring the night's discussion is the school board's contention that their references in the past to the BEP have been ignored. In recent months, the school and town leaders have gathered three times for what was billed as a "collaboration" effort that included a discussion about the state mandate.

Said Beaulieu, "We're really just looking for the basic, just looking for the minimum, we're just looking for compliance."

Exactly how much the historic increase would cost taxpayers wasn’t immediately available, although Silvia, estimated for The Breeze nearly a 10 percent jump in the tax levy, based on current numbers. That compares to the typical 1.5 percent increase this past year.

See Thursday's edition for full details as this story unfolds.


This proposed tax increase is outrageous and unthinkable. What is this School Committee thinking to even consider this? Taxpayers do not have the ability to pay an increase of this sort. I was opposed to the 1.5 million increase to buy Tablets for all students, this is just unfathomable. Do these people realize how people are living in Town. We are not getting ten percent pay increases, how are we supposed to afford this. If they approve this, they should be recalled from office. I realize that their job is to ensure that our children receive a quality education, but at what cost? What about our ability to pay? They are also supposed to be the fiscal watchdogs for the Town. To even consider this is unconscionable.
I call upon the School Committee to disregard this pie in the sky thinking and to propose a realistic, and affordable, budget for the Town. Act as if this was your household budget, there are always things that we want, but we can't afford them.
I also call up fellow taxpayers to speak out against this increase and let your voice be heard. How about no tax increase for a change.

Marcel Beausoleil

What the SC is looking for is the cost of a BEP compliant educational program. The BEP is a creation of the RI Dept of Education NOT the SC so don't shoot the messenger. Reality is that not a single school district in the state is fully compliant with RIDE's BEP. I expect the SC request for an estimate was to wake up the general public to the most frustrating situation they face. RIDE insisting on a program that the state will not fund and local taxpayers and their school districts may not even want. The real target for outrage should be State government that generates costly requirements without funding them yet has millions of $ to staff the great white sinkhole in Providence with very well paid and underutilized staff. (as in was it $4 million I saw for the Governors staff!)It's time to wake up and straighten out state leadership!

The Chromebook portion is nothing more than the redistribution of wealth. How many households with High School students do not already own a laptop? If the answer is "many", then these households are looking for another freebee. Might as well add dinner to the breakfast and lunch many already receive at no cost.

RI General Laws
§ 16-2-21 Pre-budget consultation – Annual reports – Appropriation requests – Budgets.

(d) Notwithstanding any provision of the general or public laws to the contrary:
(vi) the budget adopted and presented by any school committee for the fiscal year 2013 and for each fiscal year thereafter shall not propose the appropriation of municipal funds (exclusive of state and federal aid) in excess of one hundred four percent (104%) of the total of municipal funds appropriated by the city or town council for school purposes for the previous fiscal year.

Thornton has made it clear, that he is a Progressive and wants to surround himself with like minded people. Well, if he keeps submitting these redistribution of wealth budgets, thats all he'll have left - as everyone else will just leave. This is the last straw, I'm speeding up my exit strategy!

That above....more-so the worse, most irresponsible and arrogant School Committee in the history of the town of Town of Cumberland! One that, per John Ward above, do not even know the law!

As to Thornton....absolutely useless! Is it no wonder he was ridden out of North Kingtown on a rail, all but tarred and feathered.

What is it with the Cumberland School System that we tend to always hire other community's FAILED castoffs?

Alfa, your comment indicates that you do not know the issue at hand.

Is it fiscally irresponsible to try to meet the BEP state statute?

The problem is that Cumberland schools are underfunded. They've been underfunded for years. And while past school committees were proud if their "efficiencies," they were really short-changing the students. Now, the bill is coming due. There is a state law on the books and Cumberland is not meeting it.

Chromebooks are redistribution of wealth?? Thats epicly funny and so terribly short-sighted. Computers and the ability to use them are a requirement in life in America today. Are our schools not to prepare children for this life they are to live in? Is Socio-economic position in life truly to dictate the job you are to be trained for?

These educational tools are a uniform way to provide instruction and prepare them for the real world in what appears an efficient way. These do not seem to be playthings, but a means to research, prepare, and complete school assignments.

As a business manager it is frustrating to have to guide and train employees on how to do basic functions on a computer. Even simple cashier jobs require the ability to navigate and enter information onto devices, and don't get me started that all applications are an online process. And before any complaints that this is a limited issue, every day I get complaints and frustrated people that don't have the ability to go online and apply at home. These people have children that will be growing up with the same limitations.

This is a step that is needed in the continued growth of education and its improvement and I applaud it. Call it redistribution if you want, I'm sure someone complained of redistribution when a teacher in the 1800's broke off a piece of chalk to give to a young pupil.

Says the liberal in line to take advantage of the free Chromebooks. What is so special about the Cumberland Chromebooks that a standard laptop cannot perform? So let's say 80% of the student body already owns one or their family has a laptop at home for they're use. What, do we just give them another one for the sake of giving them something? And let me guess, each teacher will get a freebie too, right?

I'm amazed that you think accessibility for students is that widespread. Or that it is liberal to adequately train children for the world we decided to let them be born into. I for one would like to have future employees that have skills I will need, and kids adequately prepared for college, which will foster a school system that raises property values. Such a bleeding heart standing here with handouts.