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Schools take step closer to budget proposal

May 19, 2012

WOONSOCKET – An extended work session by the School Committee on Friday afternoon has pushed the School Department close to setting a proposed budget of $70,613,739 for 2012-2013.
The newly adjusted budget, up from a figure of $67 million taken up when the committee's three participating members began the four-hour long review, includes a $2 million deficit reduction payment on the department's outstanding deficit that the members added on the recommendation of city officials. Another $500,000 was also added by the panel members to give the budget a better cost estimate on medical insurance costs for the coming year.
School Committee Chairwoman Anita McGuire-Forcier and members Vimala Phongsavanh and Christopher Roberts did not vote a final budget at the end of the session while allowing the administration time to research two areas where budget items remain in question: a $280,000 account for industrial trades spending at the Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center, and an $89,000 administrative position at the high school.
A vote on the overall budget could come at the panel's scheduled meeting on Wednesday, according to McGuire-Forcier and the other participating members of the panel.
Roberts said he has been keeping the city administration updated on the budget changes made by the committee and projected most of the panel's budget work had been completed by the end of Friday's meeting.
“I think we are 95 percent finished,” Roberts said while allowing for last minute updates to be made in the projection before an actual vote is taken.
The addition of a sum of money to retire the School Department's projected deficit of $7 million in the current fiscal year represented a major increase to the budget but is in keeping with the city's efforts to solve the school department's fiscal crisis for the coming year, according to Roberts.
The city is working on a plan to increase its contribution to schools through the supplemental tax increase request awaiting approval by the General Assembly and also a projected increase in state aid of more than $4 million next year.
During its review on Friday, the committee raised the projected percentage increase for Blue Cross insurance coverage from 9.4 percent to the 10 percent increase recommended by the department's insurance consultant.
The budget revision would increase an earlier projected health insurance cost of $9.4 million to $9.9 million.
That change is on top of earlier action by the committee to add $1.4 million to the budget for health care costs for retirees, a sum left out of the reworking of the budget by the department's budget consultants due to accounting changes.
The rest of the committee's budget work on Friday involved double-checking projected line items at the Central Office, middle school and high school with past year spending.
The work sparked the question of the Career Center's industrial trade account and the salary at the high school believed to belong to the school's e-learning coordinator position, but also resulted in additions the committee viewed as necessary in underfunded line items.
A fund of $50,000 was added to the middle school's textbooks account for a total of $62,000 for the coming year and the panel also granted School Superintendent Giovanna Donoyan's request for additional funding for middle school science supplies by adding $30,000 to that area under a materials and consumables account already containing $45,000.
A math position at the high school was added for $73,123 plus related fringe benefits, and the school's Family Consumer Arts Program as well as the arts and music departments collected small increases of $2,500 and $1,000 to their line items.
Roberts joined his peers in supporting an $1,100 increase to the high school music account while noting he had heard the Jazz Band performing the night before and believed their displayed excellence was worthy of the addition.

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