2015-09-24 / Opinion

School Committee Reconciles Previous Budget

By Olga Enger

Over two months after the close of the fiscal year, the Middletown School Committee tweaked the 2014-15 budget. The committee unanimously approved a reduction of $153,373, at their regularly scheduled committee meeting held on Thursday, Sept. 17. Middletown’s fiscal year ended June 30.

“Overall, the budget was reduced from the last approved budget,” said Finance Administrator Raquel Pellerin. She added the majority of the changes were from the general operational budget.

Although Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger said the process to tweak the budget at this time of year is part of normal bookkeeping, she said this year’s spending was a “unique situation.”

Changes to the regional special education program, curriculum alignment, legal fees, changes in the IT department, unfilled positions, and an unexpected retirement contributed to the savings.

Town Council will review and vote on the budget changes at their Oct. 4 meeting.

Close eyes are on the school budget this year, as the teacher union is still in contract negotiations with the committee. Additionally, the Town Council accused the department of engaging in “financial irregularities” after school officials spent $1 million on laptops as part of their digital transformation project.

About 20 teachers sat in the audience, most wearing blue and white NEAM buttons, but did not speak at the meeting.

As a separate agenda item, Kraeger explained she sent Town Council detailed responses to requested financial questions.

“For any information they need, we want to truly represent what the School Department is doing,” said Kraeger. “We want to help everyone understand finances.”

The contract for Middletown teachers expired Aug. 31 of this year. Although the School Committee recently approved a memorandum of understanding to extend the contract, Town Council rejected the extension at their meeting on Monday, Sept. 21. Once a contract expires, teachers work under the most recent agreement.

Kraeger said the committee will continue to work with the teacher union to reach a new agreement.

The next School Committee meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 15.

In other business:

. Kraeger wished Middletown teacher Deanne Reilly well as she moves onto a new role as principal in Tiverton.

. Kraeger thanked staff, teachers and faculty for a successful opening of school. “Few bumps here and there, but we expect that on opening day,” said Kraeger. “There were very few complaints that got to my level. When I walk through the schools, I see children really happy to be there. I saw our teachers very excited about the new year.”

. The committee approved a one-year extension with Terminix, which holds the district's pest control contract.

. The committee approved a one-year contract with All Island Landscape for snow removal.

. Enrollment data came in very close to last year, reported the superintendent. She said staff has enrolled over 450 new students.

. In preparation for revisions to the school’s strategic plan, the School Department will plan public workshops to engage residents about expectations and goals.

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