School budget presents challenges

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 9:30am

The Block Island School Committee is faced with the challenging task of keeping the 2019 annual budget from rising as little as possible with the knowledge that very few of the increased costs are within its ability to manage.

The 2018  school budget is expected to come in at $4,968,324, while next year’s recommended budget, at this early stage of discussion, is proposed at $5,189,451. Supt. Judith Lundsten said the goal for the proposed 2019 budget was to keep it below the municipal property tax cap increase of 4 percent, an amount dictated by the state.

At the most recent School Committee meeting, Lundsten presented a budget with a 3.1 percent increase. Committee Chair Bill Padien suggested that increase be brought down to 2.9 percent by the time the budget process concludes. The budget is so tight that the lower increase meant the possible elimination of such new initiatives as a volleyball program, or a part-time licensed therapist, or the purchase of 50 new laptops at $1,800 apiece.

The other issue is that there are items that most probably will increase at an unknown rate, but which must be preliminarily budgeted for, such as the increased pay due to school Finance Director, health and dental insurance costs, and retirement reimbursements.

“Those are the unknowns,” said Lundsten. 

“Too many unknowns,” said Padien. 

Town Finance Director Amy Land, who was in attendance, said that although across-the-board increases to the health insurance line items have been proposed at a 10 percent increase, she expected them to come in at something less than that.

At one point Padien asked, “What part of the budget is contractual, that we can’t touch?”

Lundsten said that all line items in the budget between the first item, numbered 51110 and marked “Salary,” and line item 52710 marked “Worker’s compensation,” can’t be touched, although some of the items may change.

The proposed 2018-2019 budgets for those line items are, in full: Salary: $2,858,209 (a 4.1 percent increase); Professional days: $23,389 (4.8 percent increase); Substitute pay: $43,627 (a 19.8 percent increase); Sabbatical: $43,182 (there was no sabbatical requested this year); Regular overtime: $5,000 (no increase); Tutoring: $1,000 (a $500 decrease); Severance pay: $0 (no increase); Summer pay: $0 (a $5,000 decrease from this year’s allocation); Stipend – Other: $16,264 (a $1,464 decrease); Stipend – Athletic directors/Extracurricula directors: ($12,608, or 10 percent, increase); Stipend – coaches: $80,275 (an increase of $10,712, a 15.4 percent increase); Stipend – Athletic event officials/personnel: $300 (zero percent increase); Health insurance: $570,237 (a proposed $76,068 increase at 15.4 percent over this year’s appropriation); Life and disability insurance: $17,427 (a 6.3 percent increase); Dental insurance (a possible reduction to $30,900, or a 1.7 percent decrease); Other insurance: $3,000 (no increase); Health and medical – Self-insured/Retiree: $21,656 (a $9,618 decrease); Teacher/Administrative Pension: $300,455 (a $22,047, or 7.9 percent, increase); MERS (Municipal Employees Retirement System) Pension: $31,790 (a $440, or 1.4 percent, increase); Teacher/Administrative pension: $12,818 (a $775, or 6.4 percent, increase); MERS (Municipal Employees Retirement System) Pension: $4,339 (a $279, or 6.9 percent, increase); FICA: $191,168 (a $10,423, or 5.8 percent, increase); Medicare: $44,709 (a $2,438, or 5.8 percent, increase); Unemployment insurance: $5,000 (no increase); Worker’s compensation: $17,000 (a $1,100, or 6.9 percent, increase).

The total of these 25 line items is $4,336,853 of a proposed budget of $5,189,451.

In a synopsis presented to the School Committee, Lundsten wrote, “The proposed budget is based upon revenue assumptions including an increase in the maintenance of effort from the town’s appropriation and continued state aid funding. It reflects increases in expenditures for salaries, benefits, materials and supplies, and the addition of volleyball as a competitive sport. However, it also reflects decreases in tuition reimbursement, summer pay, internet connectivity costs, and purchased services.”

The “supplies and materials” line item is projected to increase from $28,792 to $45,892. The “library book” appropriation is slated to decrease from $6,000 to $5,000. “Graduation supplies” stays constant at $400. The “student travel” line item is proposed to be reduced from $13,950 to $10,990, while “staff travel” remains constant at $12,311 and “teacher travel” stays the same at $3,000.

Due to the installation of LED lights and solar panels, the proposed electricity line item is reduced from $90,000 to $60,000.

“That’s where we’re at,” said Lundtsen.

The next school budget hearings will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 16; Monday, Jan. 22; and, if needed, Monday, Jan. 29. Adoption of the budget is tentatively scheduled for Monday, Feb. 12.