No local increase for fy2019 woonsocket school budget the valley breeze electricity projects for high school students

#

Though the budget showed a slight increase over the current year’s $77.9 million budget, due to an increase in state aid, it will not require an increase in local funds, Brad Peryea, director of administration and finance for the Education Department, told city councilors.

Enrollment figures provided by the department showed enrollment increased by 107 students from last year to the current school year, with an accompanying increase of $3.3 million in state aid. Next year’s projected state aid will increase by $2.8 million and provide approximately 77 percent of budget revenue.

According to Peryea, the largest budget expenditures are salaries and employee benefits, which made up 54 and 21 percent of the budget, respectively. While the current projected salary expenditure of $43.8 million includes a 2 percent raise from current salaries, Peryea said that salary negotiations are ongoing and those numbers are not final. Any increase in the final salary and benefits cost, he said, will be balanced with cuts elsewhere in the budget.

“We haven’t made a lot of headway at this point without getting into detail,” he said. “When the contracts are finalized, I’ll go back to the personnel supplement at that point and bring forward a list of items looking to cut to balance the budget.”

The budget’s third-largest expenditure, listed as “other purchased services,” includes school busing as well as tuition costs paid to charter schools, mayoral academies and special education programs not available within the district. According to Peryea, tuition for specialized services can range from $45,000 to $100,000 depending on the needs of the student.

“By establishing more programs here at the local level, we’ll actually have less of an expense in the long run,” he said, noting that a recently established program at Woonsocket Middle School may reduce costs for specialized services as early as next year.

According to current numbers, 332 students from Woonsocket will be enrolled in charter schools next year, a number that Peryea estimated costs the city about $4.5 million in lost state aid and tuition costs compared with $1.34 million to educate the same number of students at public schools, without accounting for the potential need for larger facilities. In response to a question from Council President Daniel Gendron, he said the opening of RISE Prep Mayoral Academy has not led to savings for the city, but costs the school department approximately $1.6 million per year.

In the area of supplies, Peryea noted there has been a general reduction in funds reserved for textbooks over the past several years along with an accompanying rise in funds reserved for E-textbooks and other technology-related supplies as classrooms transition to providing text electronically through Chromebooks.

Peryea noted the current fiscal year is projected to end with a $1.8 million surplus, though the department plans to set aside approximately $1 million of that to reserve for potential increases in medical benefits in the future. Medical and dental benefits, he said, can be difficult to budget as they can vary from year to year, and having a reserve fund will allow the department to budget more conservatively in the future.

In future years, said Peryea, the department plans to look into options to reduce electricity costs, which currently comprise $1.2 million of the FY2019 budget and have consistently risen over the past several years. Finding a third-party provider and using solar energy are two options the department is currently investigating, he said.