Schools trim budget, but not middle school sports

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The recently approved Cranston Public Schools’ $155.8 million budget made up for funding deficiencies through mainly operational cuts, according to Chief Financial Officer Joe Balducci.

Balducci noted he was able to find the additional money “as far away from the classroom as possible.” He said schools were missing $1 million on the city side, and just over $750,000 on the state end.

He added that cutting middle school sports was never an option to compensate for the shortfall.

“That was not on the table as a cut,” Balducci said.

Balducci explained how he went about finding the money in several different areas during a phone interview with the Herald on Monday afternoon. He said he begins to calculate the system’s needs in November, seven months before the end of the fiscal year.

He makes predictions for what the schools will need, but he has the “luxury” of making adjustments as months go by.

“Certified pension [is] an example,” Balducci said. “I try to gauge what I think we’ll be spending and I look to see how I’m trending in a number of different areas. Then I project to that point forward. In cases like that, I have more up-to-date information in certain operational [areas]. Some assumptions I made early on in November, I didn’t need as much money as I thought I needed. [So] we were able to cut that by $200,000.”

Unemployment compensation and district-wide insurance were other areas that Balducci re-evaluated. For example, with the latter, Balducci assumes a 10 percent year-over-year increase in payments to their general liability insurance company. It was level-funded this time around so that money came back to the schools.

The health and dental increases turned out to be only a 5 percent increase rather than 7 percent, freeing $200,000 more to chip away at the deficit. Balducci said the bids for electric and gas also came in $175,000 below projections.

Cranston School Committee Chairperson Janice Ruggieri said the department is lucky to have such a conservative CFO as Balducci, who always has “the worst-case scenario set aside.”

She echoed his sentiments that, if there is a hole in the budget, money is drawn in from areas that impact education the least.

“When we have to make cuts to the budget, we try not to do anything that impacts education or students as much we can first,” Ruggieri said. “When we’re able to move things around that don’t affect the quality of education, that’s what well go there first.”

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