2018-07-19 / Front Page

School Budget Deficit Announced

Possible Solutions to Shortfal Proposed
By Andy Long

The Finance Advisory and Audit Subcommittee of the Newport School Committee presented possible solutions to resolve a $465,000 deficit for the past fiscal year, which ended on June 30, at their July 17 meeting.

The district's Business Manager and Director of Administrative Services, Carlos Colley, provided his latest projections for the deficit that the district faces for Fiscal Year 2019, $1,096,000, and a plan for cuts which would make up for the looming shortfall.

As for the $465,000 from the last FY, some school committee members feel that the city must provide the funds to make good on the district’s overspending, based on the Caruolo Act, the law established in the 1990s that allows school committees to sue local governments for more money.

However, City Manager Joe Nicholson, in a phone interview with Newport This Week on July 18, disagreed. After first noting that the city had received no formal notice that the school district had the $465,000 deficit, he went on to say, "They're [the school committee] obligated to solve it. We're [the city council] not obligated to pay it."

“As far as [fiscal year] 2018 goes,” said subcommittee chair Raymond Gomes, “…once the September October time frame comes [when final expenses and revenues are known], when we know what the final deficit is, we can deal with it then.”

But school committee member David Carlin, a member of the subcommittee, said it was important to discuss the overspending by the district that created the deficit. He said the $465,000 number is deceptive because it combines approximately $1.9 million in overspending in some budget categories with $800,000 underspent in others, along with $610,000 in accounts that will be used to close the financial gap.

“No question about it, in my mind at least; we overspent by $1.9 million,” he said.

He askedColley, the district’s business manager and director of administrative services, when he became aware of the overspending of $700,000 on buses. “You discovered that only nine days before the end of the fiscal year?” he asked.

Colley said he began withholding sums from the bus contractor in May after he came to believe that they were not complying with their contract.

Colley introduced his estimates for the coming fiscal year, with an anticipated deficit of more than $1 million, based on costs remaining the same as last year in many areas and projected increased expenses, including $328,000 in salaries and benefits for teachers, $50,000 for a part-time physical therapist and $100,000 in legal services for labor contract negotiations. The district also must hire two ESL teachers (English as a Second Language) at a cost of $205,000.

“There’s a new regulation from RIDE [RI Department of Education],” Superintendent Colleen Jermain said. “It’s an unfunded mandate, that when you have a certain percentage of students that require higher ESL services or support, they mandate that you have to hire a certain amount of [ESL] teachers.”

She said that RIDE would like the district to hire an ESL administrator and a teacher, rather than two instructors, though she said she believes it is better to have two teachers.

Colley said the budget gap could be reduced through three staff reductions, saving $300,000, laying off a custodian, cutting $51,000, and not replacing three retiring teachers, saving another $300,000.

Transportation costs can also be reduced by $125,000, while $210,000 will be saved through lower salaries paid to new teachers. Special education costs can also be cut $210,000 by paying instructor salaries with district money, while having grant money pay other related expenses.

The School Committee will meet next Monday, July 23, to adopt the budget for FY19, setting the total amount to be spent, and in August they will determine what needs to be cut or what increased revenues there might be to balance the budget.

“I believe that spending $1.9 million plus more than we authorized as a school committee is unacceptable,” Carlin said after the meeting. “We are not paying enough attention to why that happened. We don’t have solid assurances that it won’t happen again.”

The meeting will be at the NACTEC Center at Rogers High School and it will begin at 5 p.m.

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