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School budget submitted, vote Wednesday

April 9, 2013

WOONSOCKET — The School Committee has received a school administration recommended budget of $65,958,808 for 2013-2014 but whether it can break a committee impasse over that figure won’t be known until Wednesday.
The panel voted 2-2 on the recommended budget at its last meeting but was missing its Chairwoman Vimala Phongsavanh when the vote was taken.
The school administration’s budget consultant, retired Barrington Superintendent Ralph Malafronte, said the panel will have an opportunity on Wednesday to consider the proposed budget before it is considered by the state Budget Commission running city fiscal affairs on Monday.
“They could vote on Wednesday to add or subtract to this budget and I would then have to make those changes for the Budget Commission’s April 15 meeting,” Malafronte said.
The committee’s budget deadlock occurred over the school department’s use of health care benefit cost projections provided by the state Budget Commission running city fiscal affairs that represent a savings of approximately $2 million.
Committee members Christopher Roberts and Anita McGuire-Forcier agreed to support the spending plan while noting the reduced benefits costs were provided by the Budget Commission, the panel that will ultimately approve the city’s overall budget. The opposing panel members, John Donlon and Eleanor Nadeau, cited concern that as of yet no agreements have been reached with employees over the projected savings. The members suggested that adopting the savings into the budget prematurely could result in deficit spending by the school department.
Malafronte, a superintendent for over 35 years, said the proposal to be reviewed by the School Committee on Wednesday includes the changes in energy and fuel costs requested by members of the committee such as Roberts and also a run down of the restricted grant funding the school department expects to receive in the coming year.
The federal grant funding and state restricted capital funding represents approximately an $8.5-million addition to the department’s operating budget of $65.9 million but must be applied to specific costs such as Title 1 reading and math programs for economically disadvantage students, teacher improvement programs, or capital program costs already approved the state Department of Education, Malafronte explained.
The overall operating budget represents a roughly level-funded budget plan that takes into the account budget changes that were made as part of last year’s efforts to balance school spending.
There are no staffing changes beyond the expected retirements of four veteran teachers and their replacement with lower-step teachers on the salary scale and the move to have the local budget pick up a 28-percent share of an administrative salary previously covered under an expired grant program, according to Malafronte.
“It’s based upon the needs of the district,” he said.
The budget also maintains all of the district’s current buildings and would operate its seven elementary schools, Bern on Heights, Citizens, Kevin K. Coleman, Edward Harris, Globe Park, Gov. Aram J. Pithier, and Leo A. Savoy.
Roberts, a member of the finance subcommittee with Donlon, said Monday Phongsavanh could break the deadlock when the panel meets on Wednesday but the possibility also exists that the budget will not be approved.
The budget, however, would still be presented to the Budget Commission even if it is not endorsed by the committee, Roberts said.
“It is still going to incorporate all the changes I made during the workshop and will go to the Budget Commission that way,” Roberts said. Roberts added, however, that he believes the School Committee should vote a formal budget to be submitted to the commission.
“I hope it passes because I think it is important for the committee to be involved. Even if you don’t agree with the healthcare changes, I think the committee’s members still have a responsibility to say here is a budget that we feel relates what it costs to run the district,” he said.

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