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Budget picture looking less rosy

May 16, 2013

PAWTUCKET — Last month, school administrators expressed optimism about the proposed school budget for fiscal year 2014, citing an anticipated increase in state aid and expected funding from the city. However, due to the city administration's apparent decision to not provide $511,463 as part of “maintenance of effort” and other adjustments requested by the School Committee, the latest draft is looking decidedly less rosy.
At Tuesday's School Committee meeting, Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke outlined changes to the original $102 million spending plan that was unveiled on April 23. At that time, the budget had been prepared based on a projected $2.9 million increase in revenue for FY14 over the FY13 amount. Pawtucket schools had been anticipated to receive an increase of about $2.4 million from the education aid funding formula, and school officials also planned on a payment of $511,463 coming from the city as part of the annual “maintenance of effort” funding.
However, Cylke told the school board Tuesday that state aid figures are not finalized yet and rumors are also swirling about revenue being lower than expected—perhaps as much as 25 percent. She also noted that city officials have now said they are opting out of the maintenance of effort payment in the wake of a legislative change that no longer requires municipalities to do this.
As such, Cylke said she has adjusted her budget proposal to reflect a lower amount of anticipated revenue. She adjusted the projected amount of state education aid to $794,644 and removed the $511,463 payment for maintenance of effort.
Additionally, based on a request from the School Committee at last month's meeting, she removed $722,418 that had been budgeted for “unanticipated cuts,” $213,324 planned for “teacher breakage” and $45,000 that had been left in a budget line to reflect 25 percent of the salary of the former deputy superintendent (a decision has not been made as to filling this position).
Both Cylke and School Business Administrator Thomas Conlon said they agreed with the committee that it is good business practice to not include “perceived revenues” from areas such as medical reserves, teacher retirements and unidentified cuts where the savings don't always happen as anticipated.
School Committee Chairman Alan Tenreiro reiterated that he “feels strongly” this is the right move and that the school budget will more accurately reflect the actual revenue picture. He also noted that the budget has “a lot of moving parts” and that “three weeks can change a lot.”
Cylke said her latest budget draft was also based on a warning she received from the Rhode Island Department of Education that federal Title funds for schools may be cut by as much as 10 percent in FY14. As such, she said there are a half dozen positions and expense items that could now have to be funded through the local school budget. These include $106,560 for a social worker, $110,000 in interventions for schools with performance warnings, $94,000 for math interventions, $36,000 for math consumables, $65,000 for a parent involvement facilitator, $23,000 for an Alert Now program, and $85,000 for an assessment system.
Additionally, Cylke said the new proposal includes $120,000 that will be needed to provide two more bus runs to transport 6th graders to Slater and Goff junior high schools to alleviate overcrowding, and $164,000 that will be required under a new contract agreement with Council 94 for the non-union school workers (the contract has yet to be ratified). She also pointed out that negotiations for new contracts for both the teachers and school administrators have yet to be settled.
“What could have been a $1.1 million surplus is now a deficit of $427,787,” said Cylke. She recommended that the School Committee hold a budget work session following the City Council's budget hearing to finalize the numbers for the school's FY14 budget. The City Council has scheduled its budget hearing for May 29 at 6 p.m. at Pawtucket City Hall.
In other matters, the school committee approved the recall of 61 certified teachers who had been given lay-off notices in March, a number that Cylke said was about halfway to where the school department wants it to be.
The committee also approved the hiring of Steve Fratiello as its new assistant business administrator (to fill a vacancy) and voted to approve a one-year contract renewal with Sodexo to provide the school food services.
On a different note, the school committee also gave its official go-ahead to three remaining hockey players from the recently disbanded Tolman Hockey team to be co-op players for Scituate High School as seniors next year. The board's approval was required from the Rhode Island Interscholastic League.
John Scanlon, Tolman's athletic director, said the cost to the school district would be minimal because the three players would use their own transportation to get to practices at the Smithfield ice rink and Scituate High School would be providing transportation to and from the games.
Scanlon told the committee that he initially tried to have the players join a geographically closer team such as East Providence High or Lincoln High, but RIIL rules based on student population figures dictated the move to Scituate High.
Scanlon introduced the three players, Ted Reall, Jared Pedro and Chris Wallace, who were at the meeting with their parents. He lamented the declining number of hockey players at Tolman which forced the decision to disband the team, but said this year's group of players “was one of the most fun hockey teams we've ever had” and had reached the state finals.
Committeeman Ray Spooner said he fondly recalled the time when both Tolman and Shea high schools had hockey teams and Pawtucket rinks were packed with fans when the schools played each other. “That was big time. It was fun to watch,” noted Spooner. Scanlon agreed, saying that perhaps hockey “will come back...maybe with a couple of nights like last night (Monday) in Boston.”
Scanlon added that Chris Wallace's father, John Wallace, had a similar experience to his son when Shea abandoned its team in 1987 just as the elder Wallace was set to enter as a freshmen. John Wallace ended up playing hockey for LaSalle, he said.

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