Mayor Joseph J. Solomon announced in a press release today that, following a meeting last Monday with the School Department relative to its FY19 budget, he has written to School Committee Chairwoman Bethany Furtado with an offer to increase the School Department budget by an additional $1.75M.
He proposes that the City absorb a portion of the schools’ debt service to address the budgetary gap left after the RI Department of Education’s (RIDE) recent denial of the School Department’s request for a variety of waivers.
The School Department’s original budget request was for an additional $8.1M over the FY18 approved budgetary amount. This would have exceeded the amount of tax dollars that the City could obtain through the maximum property tax levy increase governed by state law.
Nevertheless, during municipal budget hearings, the School Department remained insistent that it could not reduce the funding request to a more manageable amount. The City Council ultimately authorized an increase of $1.5M in additional local aid for FY19.
Subsequent to that, the School Department made a number of budgetary cuts, including the decimation of the RI Mentoring allocation of $102,000 in an attempt to balance its budget. The cuts also included the elimination of 15 custodian positions, presently filled, at a cost of $1M, as well as the elimination of two administration positions, which have been vacant, with salaries in excess of $100,000, at a savings of $250,000.
They also requested of RIDE a number of waivers, which included:
Solomon said that he recognizes that the School Department and School Committee share his frustration about the number and cost of so-called “unfunded state mandates.” However, “arguing about the problem in a rhetorical context will not achieve a sustainable and fiscally-sound solution to the problem of School Department funding for FY 2019,” Solomon wrote.
Coupled with the $1.5M allocated by the City Council, the additional $1.75M will provide the School Department with over 40 percent of their requested increased funding, Solomon said, and could fully fund:
Solomon said the funds would come from the $5M paving line item approved as part of the FY2019 budget. Restructuring of divisions and cost savings within each department will help to recoup at least a portion of this funding for paving, he said.
Solomon also noted that in the School Department budget, Professional Management and Administrators are to be paid $4.62 million to 42 full-time positions at an average rate of $110,152.81. Only one position has been reduced in salary.
Solomon said that, given the costs associated with the 42 professional personnel of the School Department, additional cost savings could be realized through the restructuring of the Administrative Division, and suggested the savings be put back into the custodial and clerical positions, which contribute to the betterment of the students of the district and facilities.
“I look forward to a constructive public discussion of my proposal to resolve this budget problem and to move forward with the educational mission of the School Department to provide a high-quality learning and human development opportunities for its students,” he said.
The Beacon will update this story in its print and online editions tomorrow with response from school administration.