Residents took to the microphone at Monday night’s Town Council meeting to air concerns over the upcoming budget in the last public comment before the council looks to adopt the fiscal 2013 budget this week.
The major bone of contention was the funding of the School Department, which is seeking a 4 percent increase in its appropriation after two years of level-funding from the Town Council. The four-percent increase (almost $2.3 million) would ensure the protection of school extracurricular programs such as according to Superintendent Phil Auger.
“We’ve looked at this budget very closely and looked at what we need, and what we need is a 4 percent increase,” said Auger during public comment.
Council President Elizabeth Dolan read an excerpt from a resident email asking the council to grant the increase — but do so without increasing taxes.
“If we had a pot of gold some place, we would be funding everybody fully — services, towns, schools,” said Dolan. “But we don’t have a pot of gold.”
Town Finance Director Trish Sunderland calculated the tax rates for different scenarios for funding the school department, ranging from level-funding to 4 percent.
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If the requested increase is not granted, the School Committee will be forced to cut the only discretionary area of the budget — sports — as items such as teacher salaries are guarded by contracts from cuts, according to School Committee Chairwoman Kimberly Page.
“The difference between a 2 percent increase and a 4 percent increase is the difference between mediocre schools and high-achieving schools,” Page said.
Students and parents railed against the repercussions program cuts would have to students as they apply for college. Kathleen Hess, a Brown University professor and North Kingstown resident, pointed out that colleges look for students who are well-rounded with a slew of activities on their resume. According to Hess, four students were accepted into Brown University — due in part to the quality and quantity of activities provided by NKHS.
Rollingwood Drive resident Jeff Zucchi called for the School Committee to return with alternative cuts that did not result in extracurricular programs being cut.
“Why is it that the School Committee can’t come back to you to come back to us with options that don’t take the activities away form the kids? Bring us options,” said Zucchi.
For some council members, recent budget woes have left them a bit leary of fully funding the School Department. Last December, the department announced it was anticipating a possible . At the last School Committee meeting, Auger said the department is now projecting a surplus.
“I want to support the school’s request, but the change in their numbers over the last few weeks has made me question it, and the difficulty in reading their budget is problematic,” said Town Councilman Chuck Brennan.
The council looks to adopt the budget Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. at . If needed, the council will also meet Wednesday night.