School faces projected $132,000 deficit

Over budget in salaries, benefits, legal, tuition categories
Thu, 10/31/2019 - 5:45pm

Three months into the new fiscal year, and not yet two months since opening day, the Block Island School Department is projecting a deficit of over $132,000 for the current year.

The overspending is driven by three major developments since the school budget was developed in the spring, Superintendent Michael Convery reported at the Committee’s Oct. 29 meeting: salaries and benefits finalized in the teachers’ contract, pending litigation leading to more legal services spending, and “unexpected” tuition costs for one or more students requiring special education services.

As of September 30, the projected net spending overage is $132,662 for the year ending June 30, 2020, about 2.5 percent more than the $5,242,793 budget approved by the School Committee and the voters earlier this year.

The committee and the superintendent made clear that the adjustment to the salary and benefit lines had been expected. The contract between the New Shoreham School Committee and the Teachers’ Association had not been settled while the budget was prepared, Convery said. “The contract has just recently been finalized at a higher salary amount than was budgeted.” The agreement calls for salaries totaling $3,048,681, an increase of $52,285 or 1.75 percent over the budgeted amount.

“This overage creates other overages in some benefits that are dependent on salary amounts,” Convery continued. The financial report prepared for the meeting shows increases in pension, Social Security and Medicare taxes, and workers’ compensation premiums, above the budgeted amounts.

The committee and a union representative signed the teachers’ “successor agreement” without fanfare later in the meeting.

The second factor in the deficit is the need for the School Committee to defend itself in one or more unspecified lawsuits. “We are projecting overspending Legal Services due to ongoing litigation,” Convery explained. The projected total spending is $10,000, more than double the budgeted amount of $4,500.

Committee Chair William Padien declined to identify the litigation. The Block Island Times has previously reported that former school committee clerk Marsha Gutierrez filed suit earlier this year against the committee in a dispute over the terms of her health insurance benefits in retirement.

The third factor leading to the deficit is what Convery called “unexpected out-of-district tuition,” apparently for placement in a residential program, adding $120,000 to the Tuition to Private Sources category, budgeted at $4,000 for the year.

School Finance Director Melanie Reeves said that the increased tuition expense would be partially offset by an increase in Medicaid reimbursement revenue. She estimated that the Medicaid line would increase by “a rough amount” of $20,000 over the $28,000 budget line. Responding to questions, Reeves said that the reimbursement would cover half of the educational portion of the tuition, but not room and board. That tuition expense will continue for a second school year, however.

Not discussed at the meeting were projected decreases in health and dental insurance premium costs (totaling $26,296, a 4.9 percent reduction from the combined $535,393 amount) or a projected increase in state aid to education (adding $13,452 or 11.3 percent to the anticipated aid in the budget).

Facade, HVAC, oil system repairs

Town Facilities Manager Sam Bird updated the School Committee on current projects.

Bird and Co-Principal Kristine Monje attended a meeting about the project timeline with Pariseault Builders, the contractor selected to renovate the school’s façade among other repairs. The company anticipates starting work on Nov. 12 with drainage work in the rear of the building. The façade work will probably start in the first week of December, Bird said, with the “hope” to finish the project by the last week of December.

By a vote of 3-0, the committee approved Bird’s recommendation of a Massachusetts firm to design renovations to the school’s heating, cooling and ventilation systems. (Padien and members Jessica Willi and Anne Hall voted yea. Members Persephone Brown and Kara Stinnett were absent.) The selection of Garcia, Galuska and DeSouza is conditioned on the school’s Building Committee approving the choice at a separate meeting.

The remedy for the spill from the heating plant’s oil supply system has changed since the last School Committee meeting, Bird explained. The committee had agreed to pay Preferred Utilities to supply the necessary equipment. But he said the contractor who would install the controls and piping, Don Atkinson, proposed a different solution without replacing the controls.

The Committee was not happy, especially since Bird had nothing in writing from Atkinson, and because the heating season is fast approaching.

Padien wanted more information. “We agreed to something last month,” and now the recommendation has changed, he told Bird. “This will require a special meeting,” Willi said, and Padien agreed. No date was set.

Appointments and calendar

Shirlyne Gobern has accepted the position of School Committee Clerk, Convery announced. She will begin recording the committee’s meetings in November.

The Committee approved three other appointments at the meeting: Marguerite Donaldson as full-time School Social Worker, pending her receipt of a Rhode Island license through reciprocal agreements with New York; John Tarbox as half-time Weight Room Supervisor for the fall; and Russell Littlefield as Assistant Middle School Soccer Coach.

A draft calendar for the school year beginning in September 2020 will be circulated to parents and staff for comment. With Labor Day on Sept. 7 in 2020, the first day of classes would be Sept. 9, and the last scheduled day June 23, 2021. The Committee plans to adopt the calendar, with any revisions, at its November meeting.

The next two School Committee meetings are scheduled for Monday, November 18 and Monday, Dec. 23, both at 7 p.m. in the school library.