Group petitions for more money in school budget - on top of 3 percent hike proposed by town

Group petitions for more money in school budget - on top of 3 percent hike proposed by town

Almond, Budget Board: Vote 'no' at FTM

LINCOLN - The school's maintenance of effort - increases which become forever absorbed into the annual budget - stands to jump more than $1 million if taxpayers approve a hike in the municipal appropriation line along with a separate petition from residents at the upcoming Financial Town Meeting on May 12.

Already included in the $78.9 million budget proposed by the Budget Board is a $579,335 increase in that MOE, which contributes to a $1.5 million increase in the overall school operating budget, bringing it to $51.11 million.

But the residents who provided enough signatures to turn the petition into a resolution filed April 25 with the Town Clerk believe that is not enough.

They have requested $500,000 in addition to the $1.5 million increase to bring the school budget closer to the $52.18 million school officials originally requested. While the resolution says the money will be split between medical claims and the hiring of two elementary school teachers, the FTM approves only a total amount for the School Department, and does not vote per line item.

Supt. Georgia Fortunato maintains that because the department has been level-funded for the past five years, if the extra money is not secured, it will be "very challenging" to accommodate issues like overcrowded classrooms at some elementary schools, an issue parents have been raising publicly throughout the budget process.

Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond, on the other hand, states in a letter published on page 18 that the school's budget is proposed to increase 3 percent at a time when enrollment is down 500 students over the past decade.

By comparison, the municipal operating budget is proposed to increase 0.6 percent, or $120,329, this year, bringing the total to $19.07 million.

The additional resolution, he said, "would result in an unwarranted and fiscally detrimental tax increase on households and businesses, every year and thereafter to meet this higher MOE requirement."

As the budget is proposed now, a 1.1 percent increase in the tax levy is required. Preliminary estimates of the new tax rates, per thousand dollar valuation, are: $23.56 for residential; $26.93 for commercial; $36.99 for personal property; and $30.66 for motor vehicles.

Almond argued that, historically, such an increase in the MOE has not been needed.

"Looking back to 2009, a similar plea was made at the Financial Town Meeting for additional school funding, and $517,248 was added to the proposed school budget," Almond writes. "Ironically, that same $517,248 that increased our taxes that year, and every year since, is still sitting in the school surplus account today."

Budget Board members William McManus and Michael Babbitt have also written letters, found on pages 18 and 19, urging residents to vote against the additional increase.

A point of contention in the school budget has been the medical claim line item, which was the source of an approximately $1 million adjustment by the Budget Board in its proposal. The number of claims was high this year, more than $700,000, Budget Board President Carl Brunetti said, but the board was asked to not touch the surpluses accumulated annually in self-insured medical lines in case claim amounts continued to climb.

Brunetti said the claims look to be a blip this year, and offset by some retirement savings. The plan is to be conservative, he explained, and if the school department budget goes into a deficit specifically because of claims, a supplemental amendment would be the first item on the agenda at next year's FTM.

Fortunato told The Breeze, however, that she understood the agreement differently and expected the line to be made whole after speaking with Budget Board members. She said she planned to discuss this at the Budget Board's next meeting on Thursday, May 1.

The school also has a chance to receive another $1.5 million from the town capital reserve fund to update Ferguson Field with an artificial turf multipurpose field and new track complex, as the project is one of several resolutions that will be put before voters. As listed, the project shall include, but is not limited to, a synthetic turf that includes drainage, a latex-based track, irrigation, a 4-foot chain link fence, a scoreboard and an allowance for sports field equipment.

Other resolutions are as follows:

* $3.1 million for the construction of a 4,300-square-foot police station addition.

* $25,000 to restore Pullen's Corner "Hot Potato" School and move it to the town-owned Chase Farm Park. The project is estimated to cost $47,000 and is contingent upon receipt of a $22,000 donation from the Citizens Celebration Committee.

* $20,000 for upgrades to Chase Farm Park that include the installation of two solar-powered compost toilet facilities. Estimated at $120,000, the project is contingent upon approval of a $100,000 DEM grant.

* $38,500 for renovation of the Chase Farm House to the minimum standards required to obtain occupancy and execute a lease of the residence through a historic curatorship program.

* $175,000 for upgrades to Albion Park that include construction of a new bathroom/storage/shelter building and related renovations. The $350,000 project is contingent upon approval of a 50-percent matching DEM grant.

* $50,000 to conduct a Rhode Island Department of Education-required Stage 1 feasibility study of the future of the Lincoln High School campus.

Comments

Nice of these folks with good intentions to put in the budget the raise for the teachers and administrators. Teachers will be out in force to make sure that happens.