A Rhode Island Superior Court judge has delayed a decision on whether a crucial funding formula has been applied appropropriately in the Bristol Warren Regional School District over the past three years.
Warren officials contend that the formula, used to determine how much each town pays based on its number of pupils, socioeconomic factors and other variables, has not been applied correctly and as a result has cost the town millions each year. This year alone, Warren Town Manager Thomas Gordon said, the difference could amount to as much as $2 million, should the judge ultimately decide in Warren’s favor. A ruling in Warren’s favor, he said, would reduce Warren’s obligation to the school district from the $13.18 million required by the Joint Finance Committee to $11.127 million, as computed in Warren’s take on the formula.
Officials had hoped to have a decision by Financial Town Meeting next Monday, May 19. But Judge Luis Matos asked the parties to file supplemental briefs on the matter by next week; he also reportedly wants to make the Rhode Island Departemnt of Elementary and Secondary Education a party in the suit.
“He said he wanted to make the right decision, not just a decision, “Warren Town Council president Chris Stanley said. “So we’re just kind of in limbo.”
Over the past month, council members have slashed the budget to help keep expenses in line, cutting part time positions, the summer recreation program at Burr’s Hill and many DPW programs and hours. Still, the cuts have not been enough to stave off a tax increase. Currently, the operating and school budget sits at $23.63 million, of which 55 percent would go to the school department. The proposed tax rate currently stands at $18.67 per $1,000 valuation; that is a 7.9 percent increase in the town’s tax levy hike, twice what the state allows.
Since the Town of Warren has already received approval from the state to exceed the maximum tax levy cap of 4 percent, voters will have limited flexibility for adding items to the budget during Financial Town Meeting this Monday. For instance, if they hope to add $30,000 back in to the recreation department, officials will have to find $30,000 elsewhere to cut.
As always, the meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Kickemuit Middle School. A quorum of 125 voters is required, or else the budget passes as is. Town officials will wait until 7:30 p.m. to allow people to arrive. Then, they’ll count heads and either start the meeting or pass the budget as is.