Residents urged to participate in Lincoln FTM on Monday
Residents urged to participate in Lincoln FTM on Monday
LINCOLN - If the chatter leading up to the town's Financial Town Meeting next Monday is any indication, the annual event that decides the town's budget should bring out more residents than in recent years.
At stake, in addition to the $78.9 million budget proposed by the Budget Board that gives a 3 percent increase to schools and a 0.6 percent increase to the municipal budget, is an additional $500,000 in school funding.
School officials contend they need the funds to adequately provide for students and families at a time when charter school tuitions continue to climb to a total of almost $2 million annually.
But the opposing town officials point to the school's $828,000 surplus fund, declining enrollment and increasing state aid to say the proposed $51.11 million school budget, plus $1.5 million for the construction of an artificial turf Ferguson Field, is enough.
The half-million dollar resolution that would increase the town appropriation to schools by $2 million this year and every year after was submitted by residents last month, as is allowed per the town's charter. Its purpose, they say, is to fund medical claims and four teaching positions.
Financial Director John Ward said should the $500,000 increase be approved, it would add 25 cents to the tax rate.
The tax levy increase would go from 1.12 percent to 2.07 percent, resulting in the 25-cent rate increase that's in addition to the 7-cent increase under Town Hall's proposed budget.
Though the town approves only a bottom line for the schools, the resolution suggests splitting the funds almost evenly, with $240,000 going to alleviate overcrowding issues at the elementary level by removing two layoff notices sent to two full-time teachers and two part-time teacher assistants. The $260,000 is in case medical claims total more than what was budgeted.
At the last public meeting before groups meet again in the Lincoln High School auditorium Monday, May 12, at 7 p.m., School Committee Chairwoman Kristine Donabedian told the Budget Board that she would back the splitting of the resolution at the FTM, so votes on each part could be taken separately.
She also said "we can live with" the Budget Board's alternate proposal that the board would approve a supplemental appropriation at next year's FTM should the school budget have a deficit because of medical claims.
But, Donabedian said, the additional funds are needed to avoid laying off two teachers to address parent concerns, so that resources are equitable among the elementary schools, and so overcrowded classrooms are addressed.
"We're not hiring new people," she said. "We're just calling back teachers who would have been laid off."
The plan is to move the entire pre-kindergarten program to Northern Lincoln Elementary School, where Donabedian said the school has capacity. The bathrooms are already compliant, but the school department would have to free up an extra bus. Because the playground is not large enough to accommodate the additional children, she said recess will be staggered, and some equipment from Lonsdale Elementary School will be moved to Northern.
Then, Central Elementary School and Lonsdale would each receive one teacher and part-time teacher assistant, which Donabedian said will alleviate overages at all four elementary schools and reunite families with kids split in different districts.
Supt. Georgia Fortunato said the $240,000 recommended includes salaries, as well as supplies. If enrollment happens to decline to a point of not needing those extra teachers, Fortunato said she would repurpose the money for literary coaches or a preschool teacher.
The vote on the extra funding will take place after votes on the proposed municipal budget of $19.07 million and resolutions, and before the proposed school budget, Budget Board Moderator Robert Turner said.
See story at right for more information on FTM procedure.
At last Thursday's meeting, talks also centered around level-funding. Fortunato maintains the district has been level-funded.
Budget Board Chairman Carl Brunetti, on the other hand, said, "Other than one year, when the (maintenance of effort) was allowed to be reduced, only the local contribution has been level-funded. The overall budget has increased each of the past five years because of increases in state aid and Medicaid reimbursements."
The following information, provided by Ward, details the school budget history from fiscal years 2010-2015, with the last year including Budget Board proposals, but not the additional school funding:
* FY10: Total appropriation - $47.2 million; with $40.1 million from local funds, $6.4 million from state aid, and $650,000 from Medicaid.
* FY11: Total appropriation - $46.5 million; with $39.3 million from local funds, $6.3 million from state aid, and $850,000 from Medicaid.
* FY12: Total appropriation - $47.8 million; with $39.7 million from local funds, $6.9 million from state aid, and $900,000 from Medicaid.
* FY13: Total appropriation - $48.5 million; with $39.7 million from local funds, $7.9 million from state aid, and $1 million from Medicaid.
* FY14: Total appropriation - $49.6 million; with $39.7 million from local funds, $8.9 million from state aid, and $1 million from Medicaid.
* Proposed FY15: Total appropriation - $51.1 million; with $40.2 million from local funds, $9.9 million from state aid, and $1 million from Medicaid.
Budget Board members passed out packets at the meeting that included salary increases during this time for 10 highest paid school's administrators, which ranged from 11 percent for the Saylesville Elementary School principal to 37.3 percent for the human resources coordinator.
From FY10 to FY15, Fortunato's salary has increased 15.9 percent to $153,604, should the budget be approved as proposed.
According to the 2013 Municipal Salary Survey prepared by the Rhode Island Department of Revenue and Division of Municipal Finance, Fortunato's FY14 salary of $149,130 was among the top third in the state, approximately the same as Charlestown, and behind Providence, Warwick, Pawtucket, Cumberland, Newport, Middletown, South Kingstown, Scituate and Woonsocket.
Regardless of the outcome, Budget Board members spoke during their meeting about the benefits of the community getting involved in the process this year.
Speaking of the additional school funding, Turner said, "Whether it passes or fails at the meeting, I can assure you it will be a fair fight. This is how the town of Lincoln operates."
He added, "This is how the process is supposed to work."
Budget Board member Hagop Jawharjian said he hopes to see a large turnout at the meeting to combat the feelings of apathy in past years.
Fellow member Michael Babbitt agreed.
"It was nice to see people involved in the process this year," he said. "Whether it was contentious or not, it was nice to see people involved."