Tight school budget makes finding new teaching funds challenging

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 5:45pm

The Block Island School Committee discussed adding another math teacher to the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget during its meeting Tuesday night. The challenge is that the school’s budget is so tight that it leaves little wiggle room in the staffing plan to add a teacher without making some cuts. The School Department is also losing almost $37,000 in state aid, creating an even tighter budget scenario for the members of the committee.

The proposed budget for 2020 is $5.3 million, an increase of $163,925 over the current appropriation. This budget must be first approved by the school board, and will then go through a vetting process by the Finance Department and the Town Manager before it is sent along to the Town Council. The final budget will then be presented to registered voters at the Financial Town Meeting on Wednesday, May 1.

The budget proposal for the school includes about $2.9 million for staff salaries, an increase of $55,711 over 2019. Other non-discretionary spending items in the proposed budget are $569,931 for health insurance, $323,950 for the pension program; and $197,368 for contributions to Medicare and Social Security.

Superintendent Michael Convery provided the committee members with a budget work session report. Convery noted that the school’s state aid would be decreasing by $36,811, based on the number of students for grades pre-kindergarten to grade 6, but the primary discussion was how to find the funds for another math teacher.

Bill Padien, Chair of the School Committee, said he felt larger capital improvement projects could be reviewed, and possibly cut, to find the needed funds for a new math teacher position.

He said the committee could look at the staffing plan to see if the cuts could come from trimming aides or custodial services.

“Does anyone have any idea where some of the funding could come from?” asked Padien, who noted that the Town Council could either accept the proposal or reject it. “If it’s going to come from cuts, I think it’s going to have to come from big ticket items. We have to be creative.”

Committee member Annie Hall suggested that the school propose hiring a part-time math teacher. The teacher would work two days per week for a salary of $24,800, but not be eligible for benefits.

Principal Kristine Monje said, “It’s very difficult to find a math teacher while offering no benefits. I’ll take what you give me, but I want it to be viable.” Monje noted that there has to be incentive for a teacher to want to work on the island, and that she was not in favor of cuts to allow for the hire. “I want to innovate and grow.”

“It’s like Sophie’s choice,” said Padien, referring to making a difficult decision between two options, with neither preferable over the other.

Committee members floated the idea of employing a non-certified part-time math teacher, or the possibility of another teacher performing double duty as a solution. In response, Monje pointed out that the Department of Education frowns upon non-certified hires.

“Mike, you have your hands full,” said Padien to Convery.

In other news from the meeting, the committee unanimously approved (4-0) awarding a contract in the amount of $16,999.50 to the Marshfield, Mass.-based Industrial Communications for 30 mobile radios at the school. Padien made the motion that was seconded by Hall. Kara Stinnett was absent from the meeting. Convery said the radios would be implemented by mid-March, and include training and drills with the Police and Fire Departments.

The committee also unanimously approved awarding the school’s contract for propane delivery to Hull Suburban Propane at a cost of $2.80 per gallon for 2019-2020. The cost of service will be $60 per hour, plus the cost of parts.

The School Committee’s next budget work session is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. The committee expects to approve its budget on Monday, Feb. 11 and submit it to the town on March 1.