All school sports programs chopped in 2015 budget
All school sports programs chopped in 2015 budget
NORTH SMITHFIELD - Just moments after agreeing to reinstate the 2014 spring sports program, the North Smithfield School Committee approved a budget for 2015 that eliminates all sports at both the high school and the middle school, and cuts additional staff and programs despite factoring in the maximum legal increase in town funding.
"We're crippled because we've been chronically underfunded and so it's come to roost," said Supt. Stephen Lindberg during a presentation of the budget to the School Committee last week. "The increase this year was zero, so it's compounded when you look at it."
The new budget is the School Department's second attempt at creating a financial plan for the upcoming fiscal year. The department's original document, submitted in November, called for a 15 percent funding increase from the town, far exceeding the state cap on such requests. Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton rejected that budget and gave the School Department 30 days to submit a new plan.
"That November submission was truly one of the most comprehensive budgets this administrative team has put forth, showing the community the action and the vision that we believe the school department should aspire to," said Lindberg.
"This resubmitted budget meets the town administrator's expectation to put forth a budget that is strictly dollars-based. It will reflect that we are headed in the wrong direction."
The $24,272,829 spending plan still anticipates an additional $719,075 contribution from the town- the maximum 4 percent increase allowed under state law. State aid, meanwhile, is expected to increase by $200,186.
Under Lindberg's latest proposal, the bulk of that increase would be eaten up by benefits, which are set to increase by $541,591. Most of the increase comes from the line item for "Blue Cross/Health Buyback," which is set to increase by $376,143. An increase of $141,581 is also planned for "certified retirement."
In a presentation last week, Lindberg detailed the cuts from the department's November plan, differentiating between decreases to line items which were intended to build the district's current offerings and cuts to programs that already exist.
The high school is set to take the greatest hit according to the plan, with some $52,000 taken from a list of services deemed "required" and another $27,000 eliminated from programs that administrators had hoped to build.
Salary obligations, meanwhile, are set to decrease by a total of around $32,000, despite the elimination of several existing and requested positions, but the budget anticipates an increase of $101,506 for certified teachers and $37,074 for support staff.
The plan dedicates $12,000 more for legal services and $20,000 for special education out-of-district transportation. The pupil personnel services budget category, which was said to be responsible for the district's $470,000 2014 deficit, is increased by $282,585.
By eliminating athletics, the department is set to save $137,792.
"Obviously, the new programs that were requested will not see the light of day," Lindberg said referencing programs including the Open Circle curriculum, Life of an Athlete and a career exploration program proposed for the high school.
Still, the overall budget for each school is set to increase under the plan, by roughly $11,000 at North Smithfield Elementary School; $7,647 at Halliwell; $12,000 at the Middle School and $27,000 at the High School.
The proposal was delivered in a somber tone.
"The extent to which the school department has been chronically underfunded over the past several years is clearly at the forefront of the issues we face in North Smithfield," said Lindberg.
"Our remarkable students deserve better. The community will ultimately need to decide what it wants for quality education in North Smithfield."
Lindberg's presentation also included a comparison with school budgets for towns with similar populations, namely Scituate, Narragansett, Tiverton and Exeter/West Greenwich. Of the five towns, North Smithfield had the lowest per-pupil spending during the 2011-2012 school year at $13,790 per student. Exeter/West Greenwich and Narragansett, by comparison, each spent around $19,000.
"There is no other educational community in the entire state that has provided a greater educational, technological, social, and cultural 'return on investment' budget to results for its community and taxpayers than the North Smithfield School Department," the report states.
Also included in the presentation was a breakdown of municipal funding over the past five years by School Committee member George Hemond. The local appropriation, it noted, on average, has increased by 1.2 percent per year.
School Committee Chairman Robert Lafleur said the committee will hear public commentary on the document "in another setting" towards the end of February. The budget must also undergo review by the North Smithfield Budget Committee before the Town Council will have the opportunity to vote on it in June.
The entire presentation can be viewed at www.northsmithfieldschools.com .