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Bristol Warren school spending fell $336,000 in March

Superintendent expects cost savings to continue over next several months

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The Bristol Warren Regional School District is expected to finish its fiscal year with a surplus, a result in large part of cost savings realized since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis and the implementation of distance learning.

Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Brice would not speculate on the size of any potential surplus. However, he gave the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee a monthly budget update Monday that showed the district spent $336,395 less than was budgeted between February and March, when the crisis began. March was the last month for which total expenditures were available.

“Because we don’t have people physically in buildings, it’s clear that we are going to have some cost savings,” Dr. Brice told the school committee. “We don’t know what the total impact of that will be at the moment (but) it is my expectation that we will start to see some of these same savings occur over the next several months.”

While spending rose slightly in some categories including salaries and benefits, the biggest drop came in the district’s contracted services line. March expenditures were $322,751 lower in March than in February, in large part due to spending reductions in student transportation, consultants, outside contractors that usually work in the district but now are not, out-of-district student support, and decreased food expenditures.

Supplies and materials also dropped $39,000, from approximately $105,277 in February to $66,507 in March. Property and equipment costs were also down nearly 50 percent, from $3,216 to $1,717, and miscellaneous expenditures went from $5,844 in February to a negative balance of $910 in March.

Another potential savings may not be realized until the summer. With schools closed, custodial staff have been painting buildings and classrooms, waxing floors and doing improvement projects at many district schools that in some cases were scheduled to be done over the summer. Those summer projects usually bring with them an associated overtime cost. But with the work being done now, Dr. Brice said, there could be potential savings in compensation costs as well.

Speaking before the official anouncement that distance learning will continue through the end of the school year, he added: “If we do not return to school, it means we are ahead of our normal cleaning routine and I would expect that the incidences of overtime during the summer should fall significantly.”

What the district will do with any leftover funds remains to be seen. Those funds can be put into a fund balance account with the approval of the school committee, or Dr. Brice said they could be used to augment other areas in the budget.

“We may have the ability to fund (other line items) right out of this budget so as not to have to pull (funds) from other areas.”

Committee members agreed to hold a budget/facilities subcommittee meeting this coming month to discuss the issue further.

Dr. Brice warned that the savings could be “mitigated” somewhat by costs associated with the loaning of 700 older Chromebooks to families who requested them at the start of distance learning. The loaner computers were nearing the end of their service life, and he said it is likely that some, through resultant higher than expected wear and tear, will need to be replaced in the coming months.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.