WEST — Concerns about the potential level of city and state financial support will weigh on the school board as it develops a proposed education budget for 2022-23.
The budget-making process kicked off Wednesday with Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau and Cindy Kirchhoff, the school district’s director of finance and operations, providing an overview of the typical process, what goes into district funding and a discussion of potential reductions. state aid due, in part, to an increase in the number of families choosing to homeschool their children due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kirchhoff said she hopes state officials will change or modify the formula used to calculate the state’s level of aid in light of the pandemic, which has led to declining student enrollment across the board. the state. Based on the traditional formula, Kirchhoff said, the district would see a reduction of about $1.5 million in state aid.
“If nothing changes, our [aid] would be reduced by $1.5 million. We don’t think that will happen, but until something changes, that’s what we’ll see,” Kirchhoff said.
Members of the school committee noted that the potential reduction in state aid comes as the city council looks for ways to meet the city’s infrastructure needs in a difficult economic environment. The current local education budget of $58,390,505 represents a 0.59% increase over the previous year and includes a local tax allocation of $49,059,463, which is $600,000 more than the previous year, when the city council level funded the local allocation. The current budget also includes $8.07 million in state assistance.
“It could be even more intense than last year,” said Christine Cooke, a member of the school committee. “We’ve almost got level funding two years in a row. I don’t really feel like we’re going to get much of the money we’re asking for.”
Cooke and school committee chairwoman Diane Chiaradio Bowdy also noted that city council members have discussed in recent years the possibility of setting the education budget on the basis of spending per pupil. State law prohibits local school districts from reducing the amount of money spent on education from year to year unless a per-student approach is permitted.
Over the next six weeks, Garceau will present his recommendations for the 2022-23 budget. Budget sessions will be dedicated to reviewing budgets for individual school buildings, teachers and other staff, special education, transportation, maintenance, instructional materials and other resources.
Education budgets are based on the district’s vision of “the student we want to graduate” and positioning students for “success in everything that comes next” after high school whether students pursue an education college, the job market or military service, Garceau said.
To provide schools that allow students to thrive, Garceau said, district employees are focused on strengthening instruction and student support systems; improve teachers’ effectiveness and strengthen their leadership capacity; and maximize organizational and fiscal efficiency.
“We have to make sure that we attract, hire and retain the best people possible,” Garceau said. “The only way to improve outcomes is to hire better teachers or improve the ones we have. That’s why compensation programs are so important.”
As he does every year, Garceau reviewed the district’s staffing history since he began working for the district. Since the fiscal year 2019 budget, the first Garceau has worked on here, the district has cut full-time equivalent positions by a trickle of 57 positions. Garceau presents the numbers during each budget season to help illustrate the district’s commitment to financial stewardship and accountability, and to demonstrate that the size of staff has shrunk alongside the decline in student enrollment that began before the pandemic.
The district currently serves 2,341 students in pre-K-Grade 12. An additional 46 students who live here attend out-of-town charter schools, 99 students are homeschooled, 86 students attend Chariho High School, six students attend other vocational schools and 25 students are on internship outside the district.
Garceau and Kirchhoff also reviewed the federal funds the district has received and expects to receive from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The first round of funds to the district superseded the funds usually provided by the state.
Other funds from the act were used for pandemic-related expenses, such as substitute teachers, programs, and employees to deal with learning loss caused by the pandemic, technology, upgrades heating and air conditioning, and cleaning and disinfection of school buildings.
Ultimately, Garceau said, the budget is more than dollars and common sense.
“A budget is a very public proclamation as to what the community values. If the community values education, the budgets will be funded and they will reflect that as long as they respect you, and I think we’ve demonstrated our competency to be good financial stewards and get good tax returns,” Garceau said.