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Special meeting Monday focuses on funding

March 19, 2011

CUMBERLAND - The Town Council will hold a special meeting Monday to discuss the town's legislative agenda, which will include hot button issues such as acceleration of the school funding formula phase-in, vehicle excise tax, and state housing aid.
The meeting gets underway at 7:30 p.m. in the Cumberland Public Library's Hayden Center meeting room, 1464 Diamond Hill Road.
Each year, the council develops an agenda that both supports and opposes legislation based on whether or not the bills help the town achieve its goals or detracts from those objectives.
Topping this year's legislative agenda is the council's support of legislation to accelerate the release of millions of dollars in state school funding. Cumberland has joined a growing list of cities and towns, including North Smithfield, that have approved resolutions urging faster allocation of the phase-in of state school funds.
The resolution, drafted and endorsed by the Rhode Island Coalition of Municipal Leaders, is making the rounds throughout the state in an attempt to garner support from town and city councils.
Until recently, Rhode Island was the only state in the nation without a fair funding formula for education. After enduring years of criticism from political leaders and educators, the General Assembly passed a formula during the last session, but some school districts says it doesn't go far enough to guarantee that state aid will be distributed equitably among urban and suburban school districts.
The resolution approved by the Cumberland council last month calls for the acceleration of funding to begin in the fiscal 2011 budget with $32.9 million of federal education funds former Gov. Donald Carcieri proposed to use to plug a hole in the fiscal 2011 state budget.
The $32.9 million would be distributed directly to the municipalities that have been identified in the 2010 state school funding formula as being under-funded, which also includes Woonsocket, Pawtucket and Lincoln. According to the wording of the resolution, the distribution of money would be based on the communities' percentage of the total state funding shortfall in the fiscal 2011 state budget.
In Cumberland's case, the cash distribution would be approximately $1.89 million, which would be used by the town for property tax relief.
In explaining the resolution to his town council last month, Mayor Daniel J. McKee, said the town of Cumberland is being underfunded by $4,784,447 in the current state fiscal 2011 budget. He said the proposed phase-in for the new Rhode Island school funding formula will cost taxpayers in Cumberland $12,247,900 over the next three years and $19 million in the next seven years.
The proposed phase-in, he said, will cost Cumberland and every other underfunded city and town in the state a total of $215,668,288 over the next three years and $333,139,246 over the next seven years.
Communities like Cumberland, with populations totaling 796,992, have been over-taxed as a result of being underfunded for years in state aid education, McKee said.

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