School Committee stands behind budget
Last Thursday's school committee meeting was relatively brief and somewhat anti-climatic following on the heels of the March 3 joint meeting between the Town Council and the School Committee.
School Committee Chairperson Cathy Kaiser said that the committee expects further savings to be realized as health insurance rates are finalized. "We might be able to meet a zero increase budget without any cuts to the children," Kaiser said.
Parent Chris Perrotti expressed some dismay during the public forum segment of the school committee meeting. "One month ago the Town Council was bragging about the surplus and now they're coming back with this zero based budget," Perrotti said.
Committee Member Julia Held responded, "We were very proud of our limited increase of 2.42 percent."
Town Council member and School Committee liaison Mike White responded supportively, "As well you should be."
White also reiterated, "There was no town council order to zero out the budget. There was no town council directive at all." Rather, White said, he felt that Town Administrator Bruce Kaiser was trying to "set a tone."
Kaiser responded quickly to this sentiment. "He should have set the tone a lot earlier," she said.
Both school committee members and members of the audience expressed concern that the committee is being asked to develop a budget without any expressed direction or definition from the town council. Kaiser again emphasized the fact that the school committee long ago gave direction to the administrative team to prepare a number of alternatives to plan for possible cuts and that the administrative team has done so.
The school committee also emphasized their desire to partner with the town council, however, as of right now, the school committee agreed that no further reductions to the budget will be considered before the town council provides specific direction to the committee in the form of a maximum allowable school budget figure.
The next meeting between the town council and the school committee will be held on March 31 at 6:30 p.m. Public comment will be allowed at this meeting. Voters will be asked to approve both the school and the town budgets at the annual financial town meeting in June.
In other school committee news:
• The school committee voted 3-1 to endorse a resolution in support of the East Providence School Committee as the Rhode Island State Labor Relations Board considers an unfair labor practice complaint brought by the East Providence Education Association. According to Kaiser, the East Providence School Committee told East Providence's teachers that they would be cutting salaries by 5 percent and increasing the teacher's contribution to health care costs. The town of East Providence is facing severe financial difficulties and the law states that school committees' are not allowed to deficit spend, Kaiser said.
B.J. Whitehouse, the lone dissenter, said that he did not support the resolution because he felt it was the state of Rhode Island's fiscal mismanagement that led to the deficit in the first place. "I'd rather see the governor impeached or the entire system revamped," Whitehouse said. "A contract is a contract."
Committee member Held responded, "The contract has expired and they have been unable to negotiate. They are doing this to stave off bankruptcy."
The committee at first considered not supporting the resolution without unanimous support, but Whitehouse suggested a vote and the committee decided to support the resolution through the majority vote.
• The school committee approved the Elizabeth Stone Scholarship Fund Policy by unanimous vote.
• Kaiser reported that the food service sub-committee had met and agreed to issue a request for proposals from food vendors for the upcoming school year. The state requires each district to issue an RFP or to contract with the state vendor, Aramark, Kaiser said.