Declining to whittle, North Smithfield School Committee requests entire 15 percent increase

Declining to whittle, North Smithfield School Committee requests entire 15 percent increase

NORTH SMITHFIELD - Seemingly willing to let the town's Budget Committee set school funding priorities, School Committee members voted to approve their entire "wish-list" budget last week, one that, if it weren't illegal, would increase spending by more than 15 percent next year.

At the same time, the town's Budget Committee, led by Chairman Michael Clifford, has indicated that he believes his board is not required to review funding requests that do not fall within the 4 percent cap on increases as mandated by the state.

Four of five members of the School Committee in favor of submitting the entire budget plan, which lays out more than $27 million in spending. The fiscal plan is identical to the draft presented to the public in late November.

Committee member George Hemond recused himself from voting.

"I wanted to remain impartial, and I had made a recommendation to do something else," Hemond explained.

Hemond has volunteered to serve as the committee's ombudsman to the budget board, a group tasked with reviewing the budgets submitted by every town department and making a spending recommendation to the Town Council.

"Essentially the effort is to become a means of communication between the Budget Committee and the School Committee," said Hemond. "I'm there with the purpose of facilitating discussion."

Hemond's role is likely directed at avoiding at least part of the contentious debate that took place during last year's budget cycle, when tensions between Clifford and Supt. Stephen Lindberg dominated several public meetings.

If so, he's not off to a good start.

"I had a meeting with Mr. Clifford who said he would not even look at a budget with more than a 4 percent increase," said Hemond.

The school board, however, agreed to label the document a "first draft" and submit it regardless, in time for the January deadline. An attorney for the board is reportedly in the process of writing a cover letter for the document.

Last year, Clifford and the other members of his volunteer board charged that the School Department was not reporting all revenue, and that requests for funding under some line items were inflated. The board members also said that they had difficulty obtaining information from the School Department and were forced to submit official requests for information.

The strained process led the Town Council to level-fund the department, save $240,000 set aside for sports programs. Sports were reportedly moved to the "protected" municipal fund so the committee would have to look for other cost savings. The funds, however, were never transferred to the school district as the committee submitted a balanced budget after its final allocation was determined in June.

Hemond struck a calming tone while discussing the process last week.

"There are things that would reasonably drum up questions," said Hemond of the school budget. "They're valid questions and they deserve answers."

Comments

The equation at the top means: NS is ranked 15th in the State, by spending more on education it will result in being in the top ten in 2014. Math 101 3 credits to the School Committee.

Marc, How does throwing more money at the system equate to a higher rank? Just a guess here but you didn't work for Pentagon appropriations at some point, did you? I need a $900 hammer.

Art Bassett

Art, did a little math and came up with a possible scenario. Implement the new consolidation plan for our schools, close Halliwell and give the education department the savings which equals the 15 % increase at no cost to the taxpayers.