Voters Reject Chariho Budget - April 5th 2022
School Committee to explore further cuts after voters reject Chariho budget
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
April 5th 2022
RICHMOND — Voters in Richmond and Hopkinton issued a strong rebuke of the Chariho Regional School District’s proposed budget in the April 5 referendum. Charlestown was the only town to support the Fiscal Year 2023 spending plan, but the vote in that town was not nearly enough to approve move it forward.
In Richmond, where a total of 724 people cast their ballots, 269 voters approved of the proposed budget and 455 were opposed. In Hopkinton, there were 260 votes in favor and 474 opposed. Charlestown, where voters have traditionally supported proposed schools budgets, had a turnout of only 419 people, with 286 supporting the budget and 133 opposed.
As is usually the case for budget referendums, voter turnout was low. Based on the most recent Rhode Island Secretary of State’s list of eligible voters, 11.9% of Richmond voters cast their ballots, in Hopkinton, turnout was 10.9% and Charlestown’s turnout was 6.2%.
The proposed $55.7 million budget, which calls for $1.07 million in new spending, is a 1.95% increase over the current budget. The three towns, whose contributions to the school district are determined by enrollment, would all have seen increases: 2.19 % for Richmond, and 1.2% for Hopkinton. Charlestown would have had the largest increase, 2.74%.
Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard said higher costs for special education and utilities, as well as salaries, which are determined by negotiated contracts, were major contributors to the budget increase.
“Utilities and oil, obviously due to inflation, have gone much higher than anyone ever expected, so overall, we’ve got two contract negotiations coming up and whenever you’re looking at that, you’ve got set increases, salary increases etcetera,” she said.
While Richmond’s property tax rate for the coming year has not yet been established, Finance Director Laura Kenyon said that the Chariho budget, as proposed, would have raised property taxes.
Even with an increase in state aid to the town of $42,590, the new budget would increase the amount of tax the town would have to collect by $410,134.
“The tax rate is currently scheduled to go up, between both town and school, 2.23%,” she said. “The school represents $1.99% of that tax increase.
What happens now?
The Chariho Act, the legislation that created the regional school district, requires that the School Committee meet within 15 days and present a revised budget to voters within 30 days. The revisions and voting will continue, as necessary, until July 1, at which time, if a new budget has not been approved by voters and adopted by the School Committee, the school district will continue to operate with the same contributions from the towns as in the preceding fiscal year.
School Committee Chair Linda Lyall, of Charlestown, said the committee would begin the process of reducing the budget next week, at the April 12 meeting.
"We’re going back on Tuesday…it’s a regular meeting scheduled, but we’re going to move some agenda items to try and basically make the focus on the budget,” she said.
Ryan Callahan, one of four School Committee members representing Richmond, attributed the rejection of the budget to the current economic climate.
“My take on it is, it’s more financial than political,” he said. “There’s always going to be people who see the world in a political lens, but it’s really hard to argue, when you’re at the grocery store or at the gas pump or trying to do repairs on your house, or those kinds of things, seeing some pretty big impacts to your budget on essentials - this is one thing that the voters get to decide for themselves, and the vast majority of previous years, they’ve supported the school district and this year, I think they’ve told us ‘hey, it’s a tough year. Let’s take a pause.’ And I respect that.”
If the budget fails to pass by the July 1 deadline, Picard said operating with the current budget, as costs continue to rise, would definitely have an impact.
“That’s not going to be easy,” she said. “We’re going to have to push some planning down the road - capital projects, busing, transportation, staffing,” she said. “…The closer you get to level funding, the more staff impact you will see.”
Lyall said the committee would be open to all potential budget cuts. “Those options will be on the table as far as what we do next,” she said. “Do we cut some and then have another budget? Do we just let it be and go level funding? Do we cut it some more. That’s the discussion, and everything with regards to budget items is also on the table, because we’re going to have to talk about it as a group and take voters and decide how we’re going to proceed. It’ll be a hard meeting on Tuesday.”
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