The School, from rags to riches
January 14, 2006

 On Tuesday evening, January 10th, the School Committee conducted its regular monthly meeting.  Included on the agenda was a discussion of the financial audit report of the 2004/2005 budget and the current 2005/2006 budget.  What came out of this discussion was a $524,057 SURPLUS from the 2004/2005 and current budgets.  Yes, a $524,057 surplus!

During the 3-night Financial Town Meeting held last Spring, the School Administration maintained that the School budget would be in deficit by the end of the fiscal year.  The Taxpayers Association maintained that there would be upwards to a $700,000 surplus based upon actual expenditure data from the Treasurer and some rudimentary analysis of historical spend rates at that time of year. This sort of strains the credibility of the School officials regarding budgets as they could have just as easily done what the Taxpayers Association did.

It is safe to say that the Taxpayers Association was much more on the mark than the School administration.  To make matters worse, there was a boisterous group at the FTM that was pressing for an additional $500,000 over the School's requested budget.  Had it not been for level headed voters at the FTM, that measure would have passed and the School Committee would have been looking at over one million dollars in surplus funds at their Tuesday night meeting.  It is important to note that there is a Rhode Island law that clearly states that you cannot fund a school with less than it was funded the previous year!

The end result of the School Committee's meeting was that most of the surplus was spent (74%) on a few one-time things and a few permanent, recurring things as follows:

Early Literacy Teacher



Restoration of Band



Increased Technology Instruction



Technology Equip Replacement



Field Trips



Math Consultant (90 days)



Textbooks (to replace old ones)



Facilities Audit



Used School Bus



Educational/Office Equipment



Fire Safety Repairs



Classroom Equip, Furniture, Books






             * Permanent addition to School budget

This is a sizeable amount of money that is being spent independently of the Financial Town Meeting with another $137,557 sitting there as a "contingency" fund.  This should not have happened and measures ought to be taken such that the taxpayers have a bit more control over such spending.

But there are some encouraging signs that came from this meeting.  First, after a little debate, the School Committee voted to return the $22,000 that Robert Mushen and his Town Council offered at the FTM to offset some of the perceived losses that the School was claiming.

Second, the new Superintendent, Dr. Harold (Ron) Devine, who was NOT part of the previous administration that projected deficits at the FTM, took it upon himself to tackle the malaise associated with the School's budget and unveil the mysteries of a very complex set of numbers.  He concluded that the budget, as presented at the FTM, was confusing, hard to follow, and in desperate need of an overhaul.  He made a vow, as did the School Committee, to fix it!

This is refreshing in that no School Administration or School Committee in recent history has ever made such an admission or taken such a vow.  But the Taxpayers Association will be watching for real accomplishments as only words exist at this time.  Moreover, the Taxpayers Association is disturbed that an alleged deficit proclaimed at the FTM turned into a $524,057 surplus and, rather than use that to reduce the tax burden or to plan ahead, it is essentially all gone!

One area of concern is that $25,000 is being spent on a facilities audit and "immediate repairs".  This audit will be conducted on the physical plant to identify maintenance problems after years of neglect.  With known problems such as various roof leaks, the cost of the repairs could easily reach amounts much higher than $25,000.  It is unfortunate that so little of this surplus is being put aside for this purpose. 

Bottom Line: As predicted, the School ended up with a sizeable surplus in its budget.  It's now spent.  School officials admit that the budget as currently structured is a problem and will attempt to restore their credibility by addressing the reasons that the budget projections were so far off.  Facility maintenance is again being neglected by not putting sufficient funds aside to make what could be some very expensive repairs.