North Smithfield schools: Federal funds needed to address COVID impact

North Smithfield schools: Federal funds needed to address COVID impact

NORTH SMITHFIELD – North Smithfield teachers and administrators on Monday said they’ll need all the funding they can get when it comes to addressing the learning loss related to COVID-19.

According to Tracy Lafreniere, a reading specialist and town resident, only 68 percent of North Smithfield Elementary School students are currently reading on grade level. In comparison, 80 percent of students were reading on grade level at the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

“After this COVID year, we have about a third of our students who are needing intervention. Those are big shoes to fill,” she said.

Lafreniere was one of several individuals who spoke out against a Budget Committee proposal to increase the local school budget by only 0.96 percent during a public hearing on Monday. The School Department had requested a budget increase of 2.9 percent, but Budget Committee members instead recommended the more modest increase, citing the $2.46 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds allotted to the school department and two years of budget surpluses.

“With a significant budget surplus for fiscal year end 2020 together with an anticipated surplus in excess of $1 million for fiscal year end 2021, we believe the school department currently has adequate resources to meet any increase in its financial responsibilities,” they wrote in their budget proposal.

Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski had recommended a 2.19 percent increase in his budget proposal.

On Monday, School Committee Chairman James Lombardi proposed a compromise of 2 percent, which would amount to about a $400,000 increase in local school funding. Lombardi said the new amount will allow the department to maintain a “status quo budget” with no substantial additions or new positions.

Lombardi acknowledged the department will finish the year with a significant surplus but cautioned against incorporating the surplus into the budget, warning it could result in a deficit in future years.

“These are one-time savings basically from not physically opening the schools. These funds will not be available in a surplus for subsequent years,” he said.

Instead, he recommended putting the surplus toward replacing the windows at North Smithfield High School and constructing a new turf field. He said the department would be willing to forego $100,000 in capital funding recommended by the Budget Committee.

Town councilors heard from other parents and School Committee members who also argued against allowing the COVID-19 relief funds or surplus to affect budget decisions. Lafreniere said the money relief money was intended to help students and should be used to address the impact in literacy and other areas.

“Our schools have definitely gone back to business, but I’m going to just let you know that we are far from business as usual, and we probably won’t get back to the ‘as usual’ part for awhile,” she said.

Though the council did not take a vote on the budget Monday night, two councilors offered early indications of support for Lombardi’s proposal. Councilor Stephen Corriveau, who has children in North Smithfield schools, said he is not in favor of any kind of level funding, and Councilor Claire O’Hara, a retired schoolteacher, said she is proud of the work teachers have accomplished this year.

“We have to work with you. This isn’t going to be done overnight,” she said.

Councilors will take up the budget discussion again next Monday, June 21.

Comments

How about extended class days, going to school in the summer or actually going to school 5 days a week. I fail to see how spending more money is going to help. Typical union pay me more and education will be better. We all know that does not work!!

Someday there will be no one to pay the taxes...you will see