TIVERTON — National policy and politics hit close to home last week as the Congressionally imposed $85 billion in sequestration cuts nationwide threatened to cut federal funding for three programs in Tiverton schools.
After heated debate, however, and following back-to-back meetings last Wednesday and Thursday, the Tiverton Budget Committee decided not to impose the cuts locally. By a vote the second night of 8-3, the committee decided not to reduce the $28 million school budget by the estimated $38,918 in sequester cuts.
Before the sequester, the three programs together were set to bring in a total of $750,986 in restricted federal funds to Tiverton schools — for economically disadvantaged children ($184,520), for special needs students ($479,835), and for professional development for teachers ($86,631).
Sequestration, however, is projected to reduce funding for those three programs next fiscal year by 5 percent each.
Last month the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) informed the Tiverton School Department that it was likely going to have to accept the estimated 5% sequester-imposed funding cuts .
And so last week, as the Budget Committee was finalizing the budget it intended to recommend to the voters at the Financial Town Referendum (FTR) May 21, it had to wrestle with whether and how to impose those cuts.
The debatebroke down into two camps.
One camp was represented by School Superintendent William Rearick, who appeared both nights to present the school position.
The other camp was led by Budget Committee member James Amarantes.
Superintendent Rearick stated the school department’s position against cutting the local programs. “We have to make up that cut to keep our current level of service,” he said. “The money helps us pay for positions. We would still need the positions in order to be in compliance with the basic education plan.” Even if the budgeted funds were to be reduced to reflect sequestration, he said, “our obligation still stands.”
That’s consistent with RIDE policy. RIDE spokesman Elliot Krieger, stated in an e-mail that even with the sequestration cuts, “There is no change to requirements regarding services that schools and districts must provide.”
As for the math, Mr. Krieger said the numbers are “set by formula, so will be revised as we get more information from the districts later this year.” The cuts “will be by program,” not applied to the total of federal funds, he said, and are only estimated at this time.
Mr. Krieger also hinted that more sequester cuts may still come. “Along with all other state agencies, we are awaiting further developments and keeping a close eye on budget talks in Washington,” he said in his e-mail.
Mr. Amarantes believes the sequester cuts should be imposed locally. “I think sequestration means that if you cut you have to live with it.”
From the audience, Bob Martin asked rhetorically, if the state or feds cut, do Tiverton taxpayers have to make it up? “It’s time to say, if you mandate it, you fund it.”
On Thursday night, when final votes on the budget were being taken, Mr. Amarantes made a motion to reduce the school budget by the $38,918 in sequester cuts. “I believe sequestration means you have to reduce spending,” he saids.
“So those who need it most” are going to be the ones to lose the funding?” asked committee member Joanne Arruda.
“Oh, I don’t agree with that,” Mr. Amarantes said. “I’m sure that within the budget this money will become available.” He said the sequestration cuts amount to 0.1% of the budget.
“I believe we have excellent money managers within the school department and they will be able to manage quite well with the $28 million plus [in their budget] and if necessary fund the point tenth of one percent.”
In the end, he lost. Voting with Mr. Amarantes, and in favor of his motion to impose the sequester cuts on the school department, were committee members Madelyn O’Dell and Joe Sousa. Voting against Mr. Amarantes’ motion were budget committee members Joe Bento, Alex Cote, Donna Edwards, Josh Mello, Chris Cotta, Chairman Dave Perry, Joanne Arruda, and Laura Epke.