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Schools still looking at ways to slash budget

March 18, 2011

WOONSOCKET – The school department was once again looking for budget reductions on Thursday as the School Committee’s budget subcommittee began a review of ways to solve a projected $1.6 million shortfall in the $59.8 million spending plan already sent to Mayor Leo T. Fontaine.
School Committee Chairman Marc A. Dubois said that “everything” possible to be cut in the proposed budget would be looked at in the new round of budget work.
“We are still exploring a six-period day instead of seven periods as one option,” he said. The school schedule review follows the committee’s vote to eliminate block scheduling at the high school in the coming year as a way to save staffing costs. The initial move to a seven-period day was expected to save the school department six to seven positions overall and a six-period schedule could allow for a further reduction in staff, he noted.
School Superintendent Robert J. Gerardi Jr. and Business Manager Stacey Busby were expected to review other possible reductions to the budget during the subcommittee’s meeting, Dubois said. School Committee member Eleanor Nadeau serves with Dubois as committee members on the panel, and Gerardi, Busby and Steven Lima, a representative of local residents, are also participating in the discussions.
The subcommittee is expected to submit its budget recommendations to the full committee for possible action at a regular committee meeting in April.
Dubois said the high school will be studying ways to best implement the scheduling change as the subcommittee review continues.
The school may try a seven-period day and also a six-period day before the current school year ends in an attempt to gauge student and teacher reactions to the change, he said.
“We may have a little bit longer class period with a six-period schedule but students would have a lot fewer choices when it comes to electives that they want to take,” he said.
The department’s current budget problem is the result of the state’s move to deduct the amount of federal education job funding local departments received in their current budgets from the amount of state aid they are to receive in the coming year.
Dubois noted Woonsocket received $2 million in edu job fundings and used that sum while balancing the budget. Since learning of the state’s plan to reduce state aid by that amount, the school department has found $400,000 in savings to counter the revenue cut.
That leaves the $1.6 million still to be made up with additional reductions. The subcommittee can only offer proposals for savings to the full committee, Dubois noted. “It’s going to have to be a joint effort to come up with some recommendations for savings,” he said of the work ahead.

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