By EMMA BARTLETT Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse has proposed an operating budget of $176,886,269 for the district's FY 2023 -a 3.47 percent increase from the current fiscal year's adopted budget of $170,962,401. If approved by the school committee,
Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse has proposed an operating budget of $176,886,269 for the district’s FY 2023 –a 3.47 percent increase from the current fiscal year’s adopted budget of $170,962,401. If approved by the school committee, the proposed budget will go before the City Council and the Administration that will either approve or not approve the funding.
Many of the district’s principals attended the school committee meeting Jan. 20 in support of the budget.
Nota-Masse explained a decrease in state appropriation, from $68.8 million to $67.8 million, has caused the district to seek a larger amount of funds from the City. Preliminary figures show a $1,027,249 decrease in state funding for Cranston’s Public Schools. Nota-Masse explained the state’s numbers might still change, which could positively or negatively affect the proposed budget.
Preliminary state funding may be low for Cranston, but Nota-Masse mentioned preliminary numbers for other Rhode Island districts are alarming. While Cranston received a little over a million dollar cut, Warwick and East Providence received a $2 million cut and Pawtucket’s cut was between $4 million and $6 million.
Still, this decrease in state funding puts an additional burden on City appropriation. The district’s biggest concern remains the proposed ratio between state and City funding. During the past two years – alongside the pandemic – the state’s share of appropriation has decreased. Two years ago the state helped with 56.3 percent of the budget, last year 54.5 percent and now it is down to 51.6 percent. According to the state, Cranston’s wealth has increased, causing a shift in the financial burden since the City can afford more.
Nota-Masse said this was the first time in ten to 12 years that Cranston has received a decrease in state allocations. The money has always had a steady and reliable increase and the cut could be detrimental to planning purposes.
To continue providing quality education for Cranston’s students, Nota-Masse is asking the City to increased funding by three percent. Nota-Masse’s budget calls for an additional $3,521,519 from the city from $97.5 million in the current budget to $101 million.
On the day Nota-Masse presented the budget, Governor McKee announced that the state would pursue level funding, which would make this state allocation shortfall go away for Cranston. The district still plans to prepare for this deficit in the case that the level funding does not come through.
When creating their request for the City, the district cannot ask for more than four percent of the current year’s City allocations.
Schools are looking to use $4.6 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief grant (ESSER).Broken into three parts, the district used ESSER I last spring to provide technology to students when they switched to distance learning. ESSER II was just used in a targeted fashion to deal with student learning loss due to the pandemic. This money went to hosting summer programs that helped kids catch up on their education. The district hopes to use part of ESSER III’s funds for this upcoming budget. Nota-Masse said if state allocations increase, ESSER funds would be used elsewhere.
As for the list of expenditures, the district is looking to increase salaries by $4,078,894 (3.9 percent). This is not just a flat salary, but includes steps and bargaining units. For employee benefits, the budget proposes a $1,565,653 increase (3.9 percent). The budget also includes funds for three bilingual teachers who can assist Cranston’s multi-language learners within the elementary level. This population of students has increased, causing the need to be met. The district is also using ESSER funds to pay for two teachers at the secondary level.
Purchase services, which go toward outside tuition, charter schools and special education services are proposed to increase by $429,268 (1.1 percent). Charter schools and pathway programs have increased. Nota-Masse said Cranston Public Schools are bringing in more kids than they have leaving and commended staff for implementing programs that help keep students within the district instead of being placed elsewhere. Additionally, the schools had a line on the budget that allocated $348,000 for Cranston students attending charter schools outside the district. Cranston arrived at this number by asking the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) for their input on projections for increased enrollment. Joseph Balducci, the Chief Financial Officer of Cranston Public Schools said the district will ask RIDE about this projection again in the spring when the organization has solid numbers which will allow Cranston to revisit and reconcile the numbers if necessary.
Supplies and materials (which encompass utilities such as electric and gas) are projected to increase by $429,268 (10.9 percent). Equipment will tentatively increase by $48,202 (2.7 percent) while dues/fees may increase $285 (0.3 percent).
The district is also looking to make strides in replacing older buses with newer vehicles. They have been successful in the past getting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants from state. The tentative FY 2023 budget looks at replacing two large buses that would be purchased with a five-year lease payment program.
In the Jan. 20 meeting, citywide school committee vice chair Michael Traficante said he was not optimistic the district would receive $3.5 million from the City.
After a question and answer session on Jan. 24 where Nota-Masse and Balducci answered school committee questions which mainly concerned salaries, supplies and heat, the final proposed budget will be submitted to the City of Cranston by March 1, 2022.
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