BURRILLVILLE – The Burrillville School District may be seeking an $803,000 increase in funding from the town this year, money Supt. Michael Sollitto said is mostly related to staffing, including contractual obligations.
Sollitto presented the district’s draft budget for the fiscal year to the Town Council last week, noting that Burrillville is receiving $4.6 million in new federal funding through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief program, but the money cannot be used to supplement regular operating costs.
The ESSER funds will be – or already have been – used to fund summer learning programs; staffing; cleaning and sanitizing of buildings; technology; upgrades to heating and ventilation; professional development and purchase of a wheelchair accessible van, according to the superintendent.
Around 80 percent of expected increase to the town allocation, Sollitto said, is related to staffing, including a $182,000 benefit increase.
The draft request, while up from fiscal year 2022, could have been significantly higher. The district was slated to lose $1.6 million in state aid under Rhode Island’s school funding formula, but under the budget recently proposed by Gov. Dan McKee, that loss would shrink to just $50,000.
“Originally the state aid formula that was followed had a decrease across the state of Rhode Island of about $44 million, and that was primarily due to a drop in enrollment directly related to the pandemic, and free and reduced lunch,” Sollitto said.
Sollitto said the Burrillville school system has lost 173 students over the past three years, a number on par with the statewide drops in enrollment.
The proposed state budget, which still needs General Assembly approval, accounts for that widespread loss of students.
“It’s relatively close,” Sollitto said Burrillville’s projected aid for the 2023 school year. “They’re using what they’re calling a pandemic transition fund.”
Burrillville schools received a $35,162,779 allocation from the town, meanwhile, in 2022, an amount projected to increase to $35,966,337.
Among items offsetting the expenses are the district’s seven state-approved Career and Technical Education Programs, bringing in $186,000 in tuition from out-of-town students. Sollitto said 34 students from Burrillville, however, are enrolled at CTE programs at other schools.
“CTE programs are certainly on the way up,” he said.
Town Manager Michael Wood asked if the ESSER funding would be included in the town’s future maintenance of effort obligation, referencing the state law that requires municipalities to allocate at least as much to schools as was approved the previous year. Sollitto noted that the answer is not yet certain, but that all hiring done with federal ESSER funding is temporary.
“When that funding runs out, those positions will be gone,” Sollitto said.
The joint meeting between town and school officials, held Monday, Jan. 31, also included members of the budget board and served as an early fiscal forecast, as required by state law.
Town officials also gave projections for municipal spending, noting the property taxes could see an increase of $1.2 million, with an included increase just a bit higher than the request set aside for schools of $806,000.
But many factors are still unknown, including the contribution from LS Power. The power plant’s tax treaty with Burrillville is set to expire this year, and negotiations of a new deal are still underway.
“A lot of this is still speculative at this point in time,” Wood said.
Town Councilor Dennis Anderson noted that the tax rate will likely drop significantly as a result of the recent real estate revaluation process.
“We’re going to see a big jump in values,” Anderson said. “I’m expecting these values to go up 25 percent.”
Councilor Raymond Trinque noted that much can change before the fiscal plan is actually approved in June, and he would like local legislators submit a bill to change the requirement that the town hold the early budget meeting.
“I personally think this is a useful starting point,” Anderson said of the meeting. “We just have to a little bit nimble.”
Why does the school dept need a wheelchair van ? What are we paying the bus company for ? This is just another way of stealing the taxpayer money !