PAWTUCKET — Thanks to the school district receiving $1.1 million in state literacy funds that are no longer restricted, school officials say their latest deficit figure for the FY12 budget is now down to $1.2 million.
The approximately $100 million school budget for the coming year had originally contained a deficit of $7.3 million. That figure was then pared down to a deficit of $2.3 million in late April due to $4.9 million in contractual concessions and other reductions.
Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke told the School Committee on Tuesday that it was originally thought that the $1.1 million in literacy set-aside funds was not coming to the school district this year. However, further clarification from the state brought the good news that not only is the $1.1 million available, but these funds are no longer restricted in how they can be spent, and therefore, can be applied to the $2.3 million deficit.
Cylke noted, however, that while the new deficit represents about 1 percent of the budget amount, it is still a deficit and will have to be addressed going forward. She recommended, however, that the School Committee hold off on taking any action until there have been further discussions with city leaders and both the city and state budgets are more finalized.
Attorney Stephen Robinson, legal counsel for the school district, presented the options that are available to the school board if the deficit remains unresolved. He noted that, by law, the School Committee is responsible for maintaining a balanced budget.
Robinson said the four avenues include: asking for a state takeover of the school district, pursuing legal action (Caruolo) against the city for insufficient funding, approving an additional $1.2 million in budget reductions, and requesting that the city add to the FY 12 budget by $1.3 million which reflects 100 percent “maintenance of effort” funding rather than the 95 percent MOE allocated in FY 11.
Robinson went over each of the options, pointing out the pros and cons. He said that while a state takeover might yield more per-pupil spending for the district, there is a lot of uncertainty over how the state would fund the district, and said a Caruolo action, as well, is probably not a prudent course given the fiscal woes of the majority of Rhode Island communities. That leaves further budget cuts and the request that the city provide the schools with additional funding as the most viable paths, he said.
Cylke also noted that city officials cut almost $1.6 million in funding for the schools out of the FY 11 budget under the premise that enrollment had gone down based on 2008 data. She said that while enrollment had dropped at that time, it has steadily climbed back up, therefore bolstering the argument that the funding should be restored. She said there had also been some conflicting memos circulating about the “maintenance of effort” that municipalities are required to provide school districts, with state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist supporting 100 percent MOE funding and Senator Teresa Paiva-Weed lobbying for 95 percent.
Cylke also told the School Committee that talks continue with Mayor Donald Grebien and his administration, and noted that school officials have been asked to present their budget to the City Council at a budget workshop next week.
School Committeeman Alan Tenreiro commented that, as far as he was concerned, a state takeover would never be an option, and said he thinks the city at least returning the $1.6 million in funding that had been taken away based on enrollment is a reasonable expectation.
In other matters, the committee voted 5 in favor with 2 abstentions to approve the recall of 20 teachers, leaving about 61 awaiting word on their status from the original 153 who received lay-off notices in March. Cylke said more recalls will be forthcoming after the Tolman High School schedule is finalized, which should occur in the next couple of days.
The committee also voted 5 in favor with 2 abstentions to approve a new contract for the Pawtucket Administrators’ Association that extends through June 30, 2013. The agreement calls for no administrator salary increases for the 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 school years and keeps salaries at the 2010/2011 school year level, and for a 9 percent health insurance co-payment in 2011/2012 and a 10 percent co-payment in 2012/3013, and one furlough day.
Additionally, the committee voted 5 in favor with 2 abstentions to approve a revised policy on the acceptable use of network technology, and a one-year contract renewal with Sodexho food services.
The committee also voted to approve the funding for two new positions, one for Shea High School and one for Tolman High School, called “administrative facilitator of school improvement” that were recommended by Cylke. The approximate salaries, in line with those of a high school principal of approximately $107,000, will be paid for through federal Title 1 funding designed to help with the schools’ ability to meet state education standards.
However, two other new positions that had been proposed by Cylke called “chief school performance officers,” with one planned for elementary schools and one for secondary schools, failed to win a majority vote.
In other matters, the School Committee voted 5 in favor with 2 abstentions to adopt a resolution calling for the elimination of health care benefits for School Committee members effective January 1, 2013. Tenreiro, who proposed the resolution, said it served to support the mayor’s proposal to eliminate healthcare and dental benefits for all part-time employees for the next incoming School Committee.
However, School Committee David Coughlin questioned the need for a vote on a resolution that he said was “meaningless” since the City Council ultimately decides on the benefits issue and Committeewoman Joanne Bonollo said she took umbrage at the idea that School Committee members should have to give up the benefits option given the amount of time they put in and the personal financial liability that accompanies the elected position.
As to all of the night’s abstentions, Coughlin and Committeeman Raymond Noonan both said they chose to abstain out of an abundance of caution because they felt that the agenda of that night’s meeting did not clearly reflect some of the items that required a committee vote.