By DANIEL KITTREDGE Early state aid projections - should they hold - would necessitate a significant increase in Cranston Public Schools' requested contribution from the city in the coming fiscal year, Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse told the School
Early state aid projections – should they hold – would necessitate a significant increase in Cranston Public Schools’ requested contribution from the city in the coming fiscal year, Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse told the School Committee last week.
“The numbers we have right now are just the numbers we have right now,” the superintendent said. “We know that even in a good year, they change and fluctuate between now and June. I’m hoping they change for the better.”
Nota-Masse’s initial budget plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 totals $171,940,074, an increase of roughly $3.8 million – or approximately 2.28 percent – over the current year’s $168.1 million budget.
At present, Nota-Masse said, preliminary figures from the Rhode Island Department of Education show the district would receive a state aid increase of roughly $36,000 – a figure she described as “troubling” and “stunning.”
For context, the district received a state aid increase of roughly $4.1 million for the current fiscal year, for a total of approximately $68 million. In past years, the superintendent said, Cranston’s state aid has typically increase by $3 million to $4 million.
Joe Balducci, the district’s chief financial officer, attributed the state aid projection to a couple of specific factors.
One, he said, is the “share ratio” used in Rhode Island’s education funding formula to determine local and state contributions to districts. The recent real estate revaluation process, he said, saw an increase in city property values – and, as a result, a dip in the state’s contribution through the ratio, from 56.1 percent to 54.5 percent.
Balducci and Nota-Masse also spoke of a data point known as “average daily membership,” or ADM – essentially a snapshot meant to provide an estimate of the district’s student population. The officials said due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic, RIDE is using data from October 2019 in its calculations rather than numbers from this fall.
Ultimately, the prospect of state aid that is essentially level funded means the district will need to shift the “bulk”
of its request budget increase to the city, Nota-Masse said. The superintendent’s initial plan for the coming year seeks an increase of $3,798,491 – just less than 4 percent – in the city’s contribution. For context, the district requested a $1.7 million local funding increase for the current year and ultimately received just less than $470,000.
Nota-Masse said the district faces a number of fixed increases in expenditures, including $3,383,117, or roughly 3.3 percent, in salaries; $817,544, or roughly 2.1 percent, in benefits; $1,072,914, or about 5.5 percent, in “purchased services,” which includes outside tuitions; and $49,324, or about 2.7 percent, in its “capital outlay” costs, which is tied to lease agreements for buses.
Nota-Masse noted that salaries comprise approximately $106 million – 61.3 percent – of the district’s overall budget.
“We are a people business,” she said. “Without our people, we are not able to survive.”
Some expenditures would decrease in the superintendent’s plan. The supplies and materials budget would fall by $326,665, or roughly 7.4 percent, while “dues and fees” – a category that includes school lunch debt – would drop by $102,355, or about 2.4 percent. The district last year had established a new budget line item to cover the costs of lunch debt, but Nota-Masse said the circumstances of the last year have rendered that unnecessary.
Retirements, reductions and other decreases would save an additional $1,059,079, the superintendent said. She told committee members that the district’s administration continues to explore potential areas of savings.
Nota-Masse said she has communicated with Mayor Ken Hopkins regarding the initial school budget outlook. She also said the Rhode Island School Superintendents Association has begun lobbying efforts related to the ADM and “share ratio” calculations, which have ramifications well beyond Cranston.
“We’ve already started to appeal to members of the General Assembly to look at that … This is devastating, not only to us but to other districts as well,” she said.
Another area of focus, Nota-Masse said, is the number of students eligible for free or reduced lunch – a figure that has also been skewed by the pandemic, and which plays a significant role in the district’s federal funding.
Nota-Masse said the budget process remains in its earliest stages and that circumstances will almost certainly change.
Balducci reiterated that point, saying of state aid projections: “I don’t know, to be honest with you, what the number’s going to be two months from now.”
On one positive note, Balducci said based on existing trends, he expects the district realize a surplus when the current fiscal year ends June 30. But that, too, remains highly fluid.
“I do, right now, say we’re going to end in the black,” he said. “I can’t give you an amount right now … Based on my preliminary projections, it seems like we’re going to be OK this year.”