Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Woonsocket North Smithfield 06-25-2020

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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2 NORTH SMITHFIELD JUNE 25-JULY 1, 2020 | VALLEY BREEZE | NORTH SMITHFIELD BLACKSTONE WOONSOCKET EDITION NORTH SMITHFIELD – There are still far more unknowns than certainties about how schools will reopen next fall amid a global pan- demic, but the one thing that's sure is it's not likely to come cheap. That was the message School Committee Chairman James Lombardi had for town councilors on Monday when the two boards discussed the School Department's allotment of the coming year's bud- get. School officials are seeking an increase of $810,236 from the town, or the maximum 4 percent increase over the current fiscal year. That was the request the depart- ment made back in December when they expected a $290,596 increase in state education aid. Since then, that increase has been wiped clean by COVID-19 and replaced by $218,000 in relief funds for coronavi- rus-related education expenses. Under the current plan, school officials said they expect state educa- tion aid to remain at the current rates until about August, at which point the future of the budget will depend largely on what the state receives in fed- eral stimulus money. Even with a 4 per- cent local increase, Lombardi told coun- cilors the depart- ment will have to cut $719,000 out of its anticipated budget, which already contained little in the way of additional services. Most of the increase, he said, comes from teacher salary increases, along with increases in out-of-district tuition and transportation costs. "We'd still be cutting into the bone at the School Department. We would have to cut programs," he said. Last month, Town Administrator Gary Ezovski and the Budget Committee both recommended a local School Department increase of $445,630, or 2.2 percent. The debate is a familiar one in North Smithfield, where school offi- cials often request funds above and beyond the recommendations of the town administrator and Budget Committee. However, this year's dis- cussion is complicated by COVID- 19 and the anticipated reopening of schools on Aug. 31. Last week, Supt. Michael St. Jean told School Committee members the department is coming up with a reopening plan that will include changes in everything from class sizes to how students store their schoolwork. "We have to be incredibly creative and very frugal, because some of these changes will come with a finan- cial impact," he said. The biggest changes are likely to come in busing, with state officials recommending a dramatic decrease in the number of students on each bus to prevent transmission of the disease. Under the most recent rec- ommendation, Lombardi said the department anticipates adding a third bus run to its morning and evening routes at a cost of between $400,000 and $600,000. That change, he said, will probably be covered by an anticipated surplus of between $350,000 and $500,000 after the department canceled bus- ing and other services for the last three months of this year. But other changes will also come with a cost, including an anticipated increase in the cost of transportation for students traveling to other districts. Town councilors acknowledged the uncertainty, with several asking about other factors that could change before the fall. "It's unfortunate, but it's the reality that we're in right now with so many unknowns," said Council President Paul Vadenais. The Town Council will vote on the budget during two meetings this coming Monday and Tuesday, June 29 and 30. Last Thursday, the two boards spent an evening debating the future of an anticipated $200,000 to $290,000 in savings from recent school building projects that came in under budget, another pool of funds affected by COVID-19. 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