Another hard year of cuts is ahead for North Kingstown schools, according to Superintendent Phil Auger. On Tuesday night, Auger presented a preliminary look at fiscal 2014’s budget, which starts July 1. According to Auger, the district will need to make roughly $500,000 in cuts to balance the budget.
State and federal funding for the upcoming year are both expected to drop, according to figures from Auger and School Business Director Mary King. One of those factors is a drop in enrollment. According to King, North Kingstown schools are expected to cumulatively lose 100 students. Jamestown, which sends its high school students to North Kingstown High School, is also expected to have fewer students coming into NK next year. Fewer students means less state aid, said Auger. Unfortunately, the drop may not be enough to cut staffing or make other cost-cutting moves.
“If we lose 20 kids across the district, for example, it may not really make a difference in any one particular classroom,” said Auger.
The anticipated enrollment decrease in next school year is part of a longer trend in North Kingstown. Enrollment has dropped 8 percent since 2009. During that same time, staffing has been reduced by 8.8 percent – the biggest in support staff, which has seen a 20 percent drop.
North Kingstown schools will also take another financial hit with an influx of approximately 47 students from Crossroads. The low-income housing development recently expanded and anticipates that roughly 47 children will be entering the North Kingstown school system. Unfortunately, they won’t be included in the Department of Education’s census in March 2013 and, therefore, North Kingstown schools won’t receive state funding for them until the following academic year.
Another area that school officials will be keeping an eye on is the upcoming expiration of the teachers’ union contract, set to end on Aug. 31 of this year.
One of the biggest drivers in the schools’ budget over the past few years has been the rising costs of health care. In the past four years, health care costs have skyrocketed by almost 46 percent for the North Kingstown School Department.
Put together, these changes will result in $500,000 in needed cuts to the school department’s budget. That figure could rise: Auger’s proposed budget assumes a 4 percent increase in local property taxes. Last year, the schools received a *2-percent increase. The year prior, the schools were level-funded.
“It really did not represent a whole lot,” said Auger about the two-percent increase for fiscal 2013 budget. “We still had to do over $1 million in cuts. We had to make pretty drastic moves with out negotiations with ESP, to the extent that we outsourced the custodians.”
Last summer, the North Kingstown School Committee voted to outsource the district’s custodial services, leading to a sizable outcry from the Educational Support Professionals union that represents the custodians and others.
According to Auger, North Kingstown schools will be facing a tough budget year as school officials struggle to find more areas to cut to balance the fiscal 2014 budget.
“The first couple of years I was on this committee, it was pretty easy to make cuts,” said School Committee Member Larry Ceresi. “There was a lot of low-lying fruit on the ground. Now finding those cuts and that low-lying fruit has all but passed. We’re at a very difficult place now.”
Auger added that he felt the schools were in a “very difficult situation” and that it needs to be remedied with a significant increase in funding. In his presentation, he spoke of the school department’s mission statement and vision that promoted “getting to the next level.” According to Auger, there are not enough funds in the current budget to fulfill some of these “vision” items. The presentation included feedback from North Kingstown’s principals and what they would need to help further this “vision,” including an increase in technology. All principals suggested more Smart Boards (interactive white boards that are used in some classrooms), upgrades to computer labs, educational software and other technological upgrades.
“It is clear that we need to focus on less traditional paper and textbooks and more on technology and web access,” said Auger during the presentation.
Also on the list of “vision” items is boosting support staff, specifically the district’s special education staffing. Following the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month, the school department is also looking at security upgrades.
Some members of the committee voiced their concerns over whether or not the years of budget cuts would degrade the quality of North Kingstown’s schools.
“If we don’t start looking at this thing a little bit more pragmatically, property values are going to decline because our schools aren’t as good as they used to be,” said John Boscardin.
Town Council Member Kerry McKay, who spoke before the committee during public comment, disagreed with that sentiment.
“What I see in this school department is vitality,” said McKay. “A strong sports program, a strong chorus, athletic programs, interscholastic. I see bands, I see choruses, I see special education programs. We need to be promoting a glass that’s half full all of the time.”
*The school department's appropriation for fiscal 2012 was altered by the town to offset a project deficit. The school's spending plan was cut by $266,624 – dropping its appropriation from the municipal budget. Despite the two-percent increase from fiscal 2012 to 2013, the schools' budget dropped by more than $800,000 because of the appopriation change and a drop in state aid.