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Cumberland to vote on school budget

March 23, 2012

CUMBERLAND — The public will get a second chance next week to comment on School Superintendent Philip Thornton's proposed Fiscal Year 2013 school budget.
The School Committee is expected to vote on the $55.15 million budget at its meeting at 7 p.m. in the Transitional Building cafeteria at the high school, a session that will be open for public comment before the vote is taken.
Thornton's $55,152,928 budget represents a 4.9 percent, or $2.75 million, increase over the current $52,574,966 spending plan.
Thornton is proposing several reductions to balance the budget, including the elimination of 8.2 non-teaching positions, as well as nurses at the high school and John J. McLaughlin Cumberland Hill School; the elimination of Middle School sports and freshman and varsity lacrosse; elimination of funds for library books; a reduction in speech services; and the elimination of a reading program at the Middle School.
“As has been the situation for the past several years, financial pressures at the federal, state and local level have created budgetary constraints that require the School District to find ways to reduce and or control costs in order to stay fiscally viable from year to year,” Thornton said in his budget transmittal letter to the town.
At the state level, he said, the district is expecting an increase in state education aid in the amount of $1,151,725, however, $373,000 of that is predicated on Governor Lincoln Chafee's request for additional state aid, “which may or may not hold true,” Thornton said.
“As always, we budget based on the recommended level set by the governor,” he said. “Increased costs in pensions, charter school payments and the need to close the gap from the last of the federal education jobs will account for the increases in state aid. In a worst case scenario, the additional $373,000 in state aid may need to be reconciled later in the spring if the State House modifies the governor's proposed aid to education.”
Locally, the town comprises approximately 68 percent of the total aid for schools to the district's operations budget. The fiscal year 2013 budget proposes a 2.76 percent increase from last year's local contribution, which represents an increase of $1 million over last year's spending.
“Additionally, the Cumberland Teachers Association has been collaborative with regard to the budget,” Thornton said. “Recent talks have focused on achieving approximately $594,000 in savings from the current collective bargaining agreement, which has one year remaining.”
Thornton said his proposed budget includes four key initiatives designed to “systemically transform Cumberland into a progressive and educationally responsive district that is deliberately focused on the work of raising students’ achievement.”
Those initiatives include math, specifically the implementation of a new math curriculum vehicle and a mandatory after school math program; technology and science; and all-day kindergarten.
A full-day kindergarten program is in place in the 2013 budget,” Thornton said. “The advantages of this program are far reaching as they can transform student readiness at the very early stages of their educational career.”
According to the proposal, each of the five elementary schools is scheduled for a kindergarten through Grade 5 span. Additionally, boundary lines have been relocated to accommodate the program, which will cost the district $502,666.
“It should be noted that state aid will increase by the number of kindergarten students 12 months after the start of the program,” Thornton said. “Starting in Fiscal 2014, Cumberland will receive increments of $100,000 each year full day kindergarten is in operation. By fiscal year 2018, Cumberland will see the full value of the full-day kindergarten students with a $500,000 increase in state aid for each student in the program.”
The fiscal 2013 school budget must be submitted to the town by April 2.


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