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Back to the drawing board for schools?

March 12, 2011

WOONSOCKET – The School Department may have to take another look at its 2011-12 school budget after getting figures on Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s state aid for schools during the same period.
Chafee on Tuesday released information on his proposed state budget for 2011-12 that may end up penalizing the local district even while increasing its overall award of state aid.
School Department Business Manager Stacey Busby told members of the School Committee on Wednesday that the budget information released by Chafee’s administration shows the governor’s commitment to fully fund the current formula for awarding school aid to local districts, but also contained some bad news for Woonsocket.
Chafee’s proposed budget includes a move to claim $32 million in federal education job money awarded to the state last year as a hedge against expected shortfalls in state revenue, Busby explained.
That would not be a problem for Woonsocket if the local district had held up on spending its award of about $2.4 million in such funding as did some other communities after previous Gov. Donald Carcieri indicated he might need that money for state budget balancing.
“Woonsocket did spend its (education) fund money in 2010-11 as part of our efforts to balance the 2010-11 budget,” she said.
Woonsocket and several other distressed communities had no choice but to use the funding they had been awarded through the state to cover other shortfalls in school revenues, according to Busby.
Now, however, the state will be taking that money back and the school department will have to adjust its revenue forecast for the 2011-12 budget accordingly, she noted.
An improvement in health care costs in the current budget of approximately $400,000 will lower the possible shortfall in revenue to approximately $1.6 million, but that sum will likely have to be addressed by a further adjustment to the school budget, she said.
The change would set the school budget for 2011-12 at approximately $59.6 million, Busby said.
The next step for the school department will be a review of all future expenses to determine where savings could be found, she said.
School Superintendent Robert J. Gerardi, Jr., said the Governor’s budget announcement ended up being bad news for the school department even with its awarded increase in new state revenue.
“While we initially thought it was going to be good news from the Governor, we find out its not because we balanced our budget to a higher number in state aid,” Gerardi said.
The school department will be reconvening its budget committee to take another look at possible cuts to address the change in state revenue, he noted.
The school department will also be notifying the city that there is a change in revenue and that it may have to see what the General Assembly does with state aid to determine if a budget adjustment is necessary.
“I think we will have to be serious about addressing this,” Gerardi said while noting no changes made to the budget will come easily.

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