When it comes to reducing school expenditures, "I don't see any easy items," reported North Kingstown School Superintendent Phil Auger at the Jan. 10 meeting of the North Kingstown School Committee.
The budget work session provided a first look at a draft budget for fiscal year 2013, and included projections for the next five years.
Auger spoke for nearly half an hour, explaining the factors that have placed North Kingstown schools in a budget shortfall for this fiscal year and on a path to future deficits next year and beyond.
Unless major cuts are made, he said, the 2013 school budget will fall short by $1.6 million – and that's if the Town Council increases funding from local taxes by approximately 4 percent.
The town has frozen school spending for the last two years, and after , Auger said, he sees a 4 percent increase as unlikely. Without it, the 2013 budget loss could balloon to $2.4 million.
Most of the $58.5 million budget – 84 percent – goes to salaries and benefits, Auger said. Most of that is set by contracts that he cannot amend.
One contract that has been under negotiation since 2011 is with the North Kingstown Education Support Professionals, which includes custodial and cafeteria workers.
At a previous school committee meeting, Auger said the current school budget assumed that contract would be finalized and yield substantial savings. Instead, the contract impasse has contributed to this year's budget problems.
Auger said he expects to propose outsourcing custodial work, which is projected to save $400,000 annually. "Four hundred thousand dollars is huge," he said.
He is also prepared to outsource food service, which has been running deficits of $150,000 per year. "It is incredibly difficult to say no to outsourcing the cafeteria."
But, he said, those savings do not equal even half of the projected $1.6 million deficit for 2013.
Auger's next items for consideration come from the rest of the budget's $12 million that is discretionary, and not set by contracts or laws. He said high school administrators are looking at creating larger classes that would require fewer teachers, and he expects to cut professional development and after-school support groups.
Next, sports and extracurricular programs will face reductions.
Looking ahead, Auger said, budget projections assume that school enrollment may fall slightly, a statewide trend, and state and federal funding will not increase.
According to Auger, while the loss of a few students scattered through the system results in less revenue, it does not cause an equal drop in fixed costs.
The superintendent said he and school committee leaders will continue to and the town manager, who are also grappling with a difficult economic climate. "We need to be respectful of one another," Auger said.
Auger said he expects to have a plan soon to address this year's budget gap. The school budget lacks a capital improvement fund, he noted, which means that maintenance items such a new roof at the must be funded by .
Most school committee members, including newest member , had no comments or questions for Auger. Melvoid Benson and Bill Mudge were absent. Committee Chair Kimberly Page asked about art funding, and Richard Welch urged the community to contact the Town Council if they had concerns about the school budget cuts.
Once the town sets its annual contribution, he said, "The die is cast."
About two dozen people, many of them school support employees, attended the meeting and four spoke against outsourcing.