BURRILLVILLE – The Burrillville School Department has requested an increase of $907,000 for the upcoming fiscal year, but that funding will not be enough to retain current staff levels, and eight school employees will be laid off under a plan devised by Supt. Frank Pallotta.
If the requested budget is approved by the Town Council next week, the layoffs will include two Burrillville High School teachers, two elementary school teachers, one special educator, one full time and one part time clerk, one teacher’s assistant, and one custodian. Savings from the staff cuts will total $529,504.
The $907,000 request is a $898,407 reduction from the $1.8 million increase the department originally asked for in January, and was reached with some “tough decisions,” according to Pallotta.
“We’ve always had limited resources and we’ve always tried to work with you to make that turn out for the best,” said Pallotta. “We’re going to do the same with this budget.”
The proposed school budget includes contractual and mandated increases of $908,451, including $143,000 in salary increases and $157,000 in benefits. Tuitions have increased by $423,000 and transportation $131,000.
State aid, meanwhile, is expected to decrease in the amount of $727,000.
To make the numbers work, Pallotta also plans to eliminated coaching stipends for a total of $12,000 and reorganized facilities for savings of $50,000. Two top step teachers have retired this year, saving the district additional money.
Town Manager Michael Wood has recommended a budget that would fund the district request, with $100,000 specifically set aside for out-of-state tuitions. Wood’s total budget of $50,579,000 was presented to the Town Council last month, and would see the tax bill for the average residential home increase by $157. The school portion would total $33,307,000.
“If you can see your way to that, that would make our budget work,” said Pallotta of the school increase.
But town councilors will make the final decision when they take up the budget on June 13, and at least one member gave early indication that deliberations may not all go as hoped.
“I will not vote to raise the taxes, not even close to what the manager’s recommending at this point,” said Councilor David Place. “We knew this was coming for the last 3-4 years. We’re still signing these contracts. We need to start taking these things into consideration.”
Place said he disagrees with Wood’s recommendation of cutting the capital budget to make the numbers work, noting that in the past, the line item has allowed the town to make improvements without having to borrow money.
Wood emphasized that the state cuts have made this year’s process more difficult.
“This is an extraordinary situation,” he said.
“We’ve lost a number of students and as a result we’ve lost a good amount of revenue. We can’t sustain this again,” said Wood. “If we’re going to lose the students and the revenue, this is the last time we can get anywhere near what you’re looking for in the budget.”
The town manager noted that he has been asking local legislators to support statewide changes that would stabilize the revenue stream.
Pallotta pointed out that Burrillville’s per pupil cost is currently third from the bottom in the state, with only Cumberland and Woonsocket spending less.
“I think we’ve done our due diligence,” he said.
The decrease in state funding is the result of a a formula that bases aid on enrollment, and Pallotta said that some of the loss is to charter schools. In Rhode Island any child may also attend a public school in a city or town where he or she does not reside, provided certain conditions are met.
“We’re doing a lot to try to keep those kids in,” he said.
“It’s very frustrating for superintendents because the Department of Education does not give me the discretion to say ‘no,'” Pallotta said. “The current commissioner is very high on school choice.”
“The reasons they want to go – it’s not because of the program,” he said. “It’s because their friend is there. It’s very sad for me when I get that as an excuse and I can’t say ‘no.'”
Councilor Raymond Trinque said the current system, “pits school versus school and that’s not good for anybody.”
The board is scheduled to vote on the fiscal plan at their regular meeting on Wednesday, June 13. The meeting will be held starting at 7 p.m. at 105 Harrisville Main St.
Editor’s note: The above article has been edited to more accurately reflect Rhode Island’s inter-district school choice program.