Results of Public Hearing on the Proposed Chariho Budget
Once the registrars from the three towns confirmed they had at least 25 registered voters in attendance on Tuesday, March 5, Charlestown Moderator Henry Walsh convened the 7 PM hearing with a pledge of allegiance and gave instructions for approaching the microphone.
The first question involved the amount needed for maintenance of effort and the reason the budget was not level funded. A request was made to include in the budget an independent consultant to study costs.
Superintendent Barry Ricci explained over $51 million would be needed for maintenance of effort, and Finance Director Brian Stanley added that the difference between that and the proposed budget was a little more than $579,000. Ricci explained that over his years as superintendent, the enrollment has decreased and that he has reduced staff by 30 positions. That said, increased salaries, transportation costs, heat, and state mandates contributed to higher costs.
Ricci said he sees himself as a “conservative” in managing the budget and stops spending in about February. He added he uses the rationale that if the school has made it through that period without incurring a budgeted expense, it can wait until the next year.
The second question centered on whether there were provisions in the budget for reduced funding due to the sequester. Superintendent Ricci said he had budgeted for a 3% reduction in federal funds, had frozen funds for the time being, and had heard the Campus 2010 funds could be cut by $20,000. He added that 53 teachers and 15 support staff had received notice and that the sequester might result in staff reductions. He added that sequester issues were in flux.
Other members of audience asked whether or not pensions were adequately funded and how much of the salary increases were contractual. One resident suggested the year to date numbers reflected a surplus in the current year.
Finance director Brian Stanley explained the schools work with both the municipal pensions for the support staff and the state pensions for the teachers and professionals. He said the state treasurer’s website was the place to look for information about the adequacy of the funding for the teachers’ pensions.
Superintendent Ricci explained that the teachers are working under a tentative agreement with the school committee so he could not comment on contractual issues. About year to date numbers, Ricci said that the teachers are in the first year of this contract and that some of the funding may be spent once the contract is ratified. He added that some teachers elect to receive payments over the summer and that those payments reduce amounts in the year to date numbers.
One resident asked about the purchase of computers for every student in grades 10,11,12 and 7,8,9 the next year. He wanted to know what the plans are for a long term budget to replace outdated computers. Superintendent Ricci said the program known as 1:1 would reduce the costs of textbooks and paper and would eventually be self funding. He added the plan is to lease hardware.
The Chariho Regional School Committee listened to all suggestions and discussion but did not indicate whether they would make amendments to the proposed budget at their March 12 meeting.
Superintendent Ricci’s Budget Message