Town Slashes School Budget By $266K

The school department's budget has been reduced by more than a quarter-million dollars amidst revenue deficit projections.

The saga of the school department’s financial woes continued this week as the North Kingstown Town Council moved to slash the current year’s spending plan for schools by $266,624.

Last month, school officials discovered that the North Kingstown School Department’s revenues would come up short, leaving the department with a deficit of $712,000. (According to Superintendent Phil Auger, that figure could jump to as much as $1.2 million pending the outcome of union contract negotiations with school employees — a contract that now goes into arbitration.)

Town Manager Michael Embury said the quarter-million-dollar cut was computed by the monthly budget report the school department provided the town. The report shows a $705,000 decrease in projected revenue and that the North Kingstown School Committee voted to use $438,876 from its fund balance to reduce the shortfall, leaving $266,624.

According to Embury, he cut the school department’s spending by that amount to remain in compliance with state law.

“As the numbers come out, you have to do this or you aren’t compliant,” said Embury.

The matter is now in court after the town sued the school department in mid-December, seeking to halt school spending amidst the projections of revenue shortfalls. Superior Court Judge Brian Stern opted not to rule on whether the town has the legal right to halt spending and instead “encouraged” both sides to work together to find a resolution. For Auger, this collaboration has been lacking since an initial meeting in December with Embury, Council President Liz Dolan and School Committee Chairwoman Kimberly Page.

“Since that time, I have had very little contact with Mike Embury other than problems with processing everyday, regular checks because of differences in opinion,” said Auger. The school department, however, has been prohibited from making any expenditures out of the ordinary and must seek the authorization of the town until the budget shortfall is resolved.

“I don’t think what they did is good for our school district or good for our town and taxpayers,” said Auger.

Both sides are still awaiting the findings of an audit by independent auditor Nadeau Wadovick LLP of Warwick to analyze the school department's finances and find a remedy to the estimated $1.2-million deficit the schools are facing. In addition, the school department has yet to hear from the state’s auditor general. In late December, the school department submitted two plans to remedy the possible shortfalls. In one plan the town would fork over $712,000 to offset the shortfall and in another the school could use the remainder of its surplus (approximately $500,000) to fill the gap, thus leaving a $212,000 shortfall.

As for the suit currently in Superior Court, the matter is due to Judge Stern on Feb. 6.

“I feel like it’s just intimidation and I feel like it will not be settled by the town manager and myself,” said Auger. “It will be handled by lawyers.”

Govstench February 01, 2012 at 09:08 PM
How nice. And with one of the middle schools with a roof leak and the town unwilling to fix it, what is the school department supposed to do, buy more 30 gallon trash cans to catch the water? The wheels are coming off the cart people - the only winners here will be the attorneys, taking money that should be going to educate the students. Sad picture for NK.
NKRI Transparency February 01, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Not to say that current situation is best.....do you feel status quo is acceptable?
NKGOP Watch February 02, 2012 at 12:48 AM
The UNION TEACHERS are still rolling it in! And they get paid all summer too! SHWWWWEEEEEEET!
BG February 02, 2012 at 12:47 PM
It's time to stop the insanity -- municipal pension reform is needed right now. I have a master's degree, work in the private secto and I can't remember the last time I had a raise. In fact, I've seen my salary and benefits decrease, all the while my town property taxes have been rising so that municipal union workers can continue living the high life. And thanks to a staffing shortage, my summer vacation last year was less than a week. But I was okay with that because at least I still have a job.
NKRI Transparency February 02, 2012 at 12:58 PM
BG, Well said! It's unfortunate that the minority of public/union workers don't feel, understand or care what the majority are experiencing while paying for their life style.
Mike February 02, 2012 at 01:03 PM
The School Dept is resonsible, by law, to maintain these buildings. They CHOSE to fund other priorities and left the children in these conditions. Nice....
Mike February 02, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Well said BG. The TC is doing its best, but they need the support of the people in NK. The unions are out in force with the typical disinformation campaigns, threats and intimidation tactics. Self-interest is a great motivator. The sad thing is that the unions have had their way for so long in this State that it has become a "right" in the union mindset to have a job and set their salaries/benefits. And I thought my kids had an entitlement mentality....
NKRI Transparency February 02, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Mike, excellent point in that our TC needs resident support allowing them to continue working towards a path of fiscal responsibility. For too long the unions organized drowning out the voice of the majority.
Joe Smith February 02, 2012 at 03:19 PM
I believe at one of the last S/C meeting a town resident with some expertise offered to give another opinion (free of charge) on the roof given the original estimate of $2M suddenly became $3M (and he stated he would not bid or assist anyone else who might bid on the project).. I am baffled why the S/C and school dept are not more accepting of free offers when hundreds of thousands of dollars are potentially at stake. The T/C should also insist the S/C and School dept fully disclose what they did with the $2.6M surplus in the general fund. If you look at the town CAFR, it seems the school dept spent at least $1M on "encumbrances" (purchases for things that won't be received until the next fiscal year).. so did all $1M worth of items come in? Silly to spend $$ on legal action; the T/C and S/C should direct the town manager and his staff as well as the School Supt and his staff to get together and come back with a plan for both bodies to look at -- if they can't agree, at least come up with two lists. Otherwise, fire both of them -- it's not rocket science. We pay an auditor, we have an audit committee, we are paying another auditor for a special audit..really? It's $60M where most of the spending is already known (compensation) and most of the problem areas (the cafeteria fund loses money, we did a bad job in forecasting J-Town tuition (or else we gave them a sweetheart deal with no bond service portion included), etc.) are known. Lead or get out of the way.
Dave February 02, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Joe To update you: The SC did take that residentr up on his offer and he is working with their sub-committee on the roofing issue. That's according to Dr Auger. I think the SC did disclose what happened to the surplus, but it would be good for them to put it out there again at a public meeting. If Dr Phil is reading this, plz consider putting it out there again at a future meeting. In terms of resdients coming out to support the TC in their efforts regarding the firefighters, if you watched the last SC meeting you would know that the esp union was out in force in opposition to the SC's move to outsource some functions, including food service. I try to watch every meeting and go to some, if we want change we need to show up to show support, write lettters or at least watch on tv and email the elected officials to support their actions. Again this SC has been level funded by the town for 3 years while the town raised to the cap and took all the money. Now they sue the school dept for a projected deficit which hasn't yet occured and are spending significant $$ on overpriced lawyers....they've created a pissing match, that makes working together much harder.
Joe Smith February 02, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Dave- good to hear. In the report, the surplus just shows a committed. I think the S/C should adopt a policy that freezes purchasing by April unless the items/services can be delivered by the end of the fiscal year (I mean, if you need something that you can't get for a few months, then either you can wait a couple more months to order so the spending - receiving stays within the same fiscal year as much as possible. Has the S/C verified that all those dollars allocated for the encumbrances got spent on those items? Sometimes orders get cancelled or you don't need the service..who is confirming..there have been several years of million dollar encumbrances.
Mike February 02, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Dr. Auger said that we all own this budget, and that all should do our part to close the gap. I agree. I see the town providing additional funds, and being asked to support a bond to repair schools that should have been maintained by the school department--thus the NK taxpayer is giving--again. I see Dr. Auger's budget cutting the children's programs--the children are giving. What I don't see are the teachers.... With student enrollment decreasing, it's salaries and benefits that are breaking the budget; we are told medical benefit costs alone are up 17%. So, the the teachers get a good deal and all others sacrifice?
NKRI Transparency February 02, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Seems that the proverbial curtain is slowly lifting exposing that it is not actually for the kids......
Paul Marshall February 02, 2012 at 08:43 PM
This is SICKENING. Watching School Committee members bicker and play to the special interests forcing the taxpayers pay $80k per year in labor lawyer fees year after year BUT they can't sell the Middle School and they can't maintain OUR buildings is sickening. If they can't do the job, resign. Our town is in TERRIBLE SHAPE. Yet, Auger will not facedown the teachers for givebacks. He'd rather punt on this one. He should resign. We have enough GUTLESS bureaucrats here. We need leaders who will fight for the Taxpayers. Otherwise, we leave town. Then what? Where are you then, Mr. PHD Bureaucrat? Everybody has to contribute to our survival except the Teachers? That's WRONG.
NKRI Transparency February 02, 2012 at 09:03 PM
As written in the ProJo: retired NK teacher and current NKSC member Mrs. Benson participates on a pension plan conference call complaining that COLA's should remain for public workers, teacher's etc. as property taxes are continuing to increase....talk about hitting your thumb with a hammer!
NKGOP Watch February 03, 2012 at 04:02 AM
Paul marshall you're nuts. This is the best school committee we've had in YEARS, doing a good job within the REALITIES of running a district in a unionized state like RI. But you KNOW all that which makes you a POLITICAL HACK, trying to decieve the public on behalf of those pickled beasts and hit-run artists on the town council. You like the zoning-for-friends-and-contributors program? How about that 400' wind turbine in peoples back yards? Do you have ACTUAL FACTS and BUDGET FIGURES that you can prove would have worked better in the last 2 or 3 school year budgets? Did Not Think So. Hack.
NKGOP Watch February 03, 2012 at 04:13 AM
Mel has always been pro-employee. Not saying I agree, for instance she kinda tried to protect Foley and Kenyon amidst that scandal, and other similar things. That's just the way she, a 30 year union teacher, swings. It's no surprise. She';s right up front about it too.
NKRI Transparency February 03, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Achievement First’s application to open a mayoral academy is approved ...........perhaps the ultimate answer to many RI town's financial problem's including ours!!
Govstench February 03, 2012 at 02:24 PM
The municipalities have no business being in the pension business! Their sloppy past practices not funding them is the proof. Just check the OPEB fund with NK!
Tim February 03, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Never posted here before but I wanted to respond to Paul Marshall's nutty comments...for one thing, are you aware that Auger just became Super? How can you blame this guy for a runaway train that left the station more than a decade ago? Took a long time for this town to get to this point. Blaming the new guy on the block is bogus, ESPECIALLY when the schools have gotten NO INCREASE from the town for three years, but the town has increased to the cap. Do you happen to be a long time member of the nkgop? If so, point that finger at yourself, as nkgop superstar Halley negleccted these \buildings for ten years, and he was flush with cash that should have been spent on the buildings. Parents called for him to fix the buildings over and over again, but he had better things to spend the money on, like contractors and other vendors he intentionally overpaid. I'm never a fan of politicians but I gotta give it to this current sc, they have managed to slow the spending and get some accountailibity in this town.
Tim February 03, 2012 at 03:22 PM
oh and the teachers did make concessions that saved over million dollars in the last negoatiations from the previous contract...maybe they will give back more in this budget. The conltract this sc negoatiated was a very good one, that was all over the news when it was signed. Highest co-pay in the state, 0 increase the first year and some other important concessions if i remeber right.
Mike February 03, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Tim--why the disinformation? The town has increased it's contribution to the schools in the last three years--a quick look at the budget shows this. It also shows that the school received more than the other town departments, to include police and fire. The school budget was 63% of the budget a few years ago--now it consumes 67% of the towns budget. Also, past tax increase let the TC build the rainy day fund required for contingencies--the same rainy day fund the School Dept evidently considers their piggy bank. Please stick to facts. Also, it's perfectly acceptable to ask Dr. Auger why 84% of the school budget, the teacher salaries and benefits, are "off limits." Let him explain to the town that shared sacrifice means the town and students sacrifice, not the teachers. Lastly, if the TC bails out the School Dept with $ from the rainy day fund, the TC will need to replace these funds. The town taxpayers can expect yet another maximum allowable property tax hike--courtesy of our school committee and school department.
Paul Marshall February 03, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Did I touch a nerve? Wow, right to the personal attacks. Name calling always persuaded me! Followed by intimidation. At least I don't HIDE BEHIND MY COMPUTER. What's next you coming to my house to kill my dog and key my car? Wow, thinking like YOURS is why our state and town are a disaster. The unions only want one thing: more. It's time we had the courage to stand up and be counted. We deserve better than this. (Unless you're a union family member, then you get the BEST of everything). DOWN with the unions.
NKRI Transparency February 03, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Paul, well said as many are tired of being raked accross the coals to feed the union machine. The majority needs to grow and become engaged to prevent the union minority from drowing out the voice of Joe resident.
NKRI Transparency February 03, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Tim, your facts are only partially true leading one to wonder your agenda. As the ProJo would say......pants on fire!
chuck roscoe February 04, 2012 at 12:02 AM
The soultion is simple. the union MEMBERS should meet and select a group of union MEMBERS to meet with the sc or the tc to hammer out a solution that is sustainable, fair to the members and the tax payers and put the results out for a vote of the people paying the bill
NKRI Transparency February 04, 2012 at 12:16 AM
An thought for a possible win-win-win situation........especially if it were to spill over to other groups!
NKGOP Watch February 06, 2012 at 02:52 AM
Are you KIDDING me? The TEACHERS? This is what you're dealing with: http://blogs.wpri.com/2010/12/03/chafee-stands-by-nearis-walsh-despite-arrest/ http://630wpro.com/article.asp?id=2306274 http://abusergoestowork.com/2011/10/12/target-loses-election-cyber-stalker-promoted/ http://630wpro.com/article.asp?id=2260277


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