Portsmouth schools’ first draft budget seeks $1M more for FY22

School board member on state aid cuts: ‘Damn un-American’

By Jim McGaw
Posted 2/23/21

PORTSMOUTH — The first draft of the school district’s operating budget for next fiscal year, presented by Superintendent Thomas Kenworthy to the School Committee Tuesday night, calls for …

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Portsmouth schools’ first draft budget seeks $1M more for FY22

School board member on state aid cuts: ‘Damn un-American’

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — The first draft of the school district’s operating budget for next fiscal year, presented by Superintendent Thomas Kenworthy to the School Committee Tuesday night, calls for an increase of more than $1 million — a 2.5-percent hike in spending over the current plan.

The draft budget calls for $41,533,271 in total expenditures for fiscal year 2022, compared to the current budget of $40,531,799. 

Administrators and board members stressed they would be looking for ways to reduce spending and/or find new revenue streams before the budget is formally approved March 23 and sent to the Town Council.

“Right now, this budget … would require a 3.9-percent increase in our town appropriation,” said Mr. Kenworthy. 

The current appropriation is $34.57 million, but would jump to $35.9 million — a $1.33 million hike — if the draft budget were to be approved as presented.

But that type of increase, School Committee Chairwoman Emily Copeland flatly stated, “is not going to fly with the Town Council.” Other committee members agreed with her that the draft budget as presented would not receive council approval.

On the expenditures side, the superintendent said the biggest drivers were contractual obligations such as salary increases, benefits, and facilities. Even so, a 2-5-percent hike in expenditures is “not a particularly high figure … for our first draft,” Mr. Kenworthy said, adding there are no taxpayer-funded personnel increases in the spending plan.

The problem has more to do with projected revenue losses, he said. 

That includes a $169,482 reduction (4.4 percent) in state aid — from the current allotment of $3.23 million to $3.06 million for next year. “We were not anticipating that … we were expecting to at least remain flat this year,” said Mr. Kenworthy.

The reduction took school officials by surprise, since the 10-year state aid funding formula — during which Portsmouth and other communities have seen their slice of the pie get smaller and smaller — was supposedly over with.

The current funding formula, enacted in 2010, is based primarily on the personal income and property value of each community.

“The funding formula boils down to whether or not the state believes each community … is providing enough local support. Those numbers are just not going in Portsmouth’s favor,” said Chris DiIuro, the district’s director of finance and administration.

Town being punished?

In other words, said committee member Allen Shers, Portsmouth is basically being punished for putting its students first.

“That’s damn un-American,” Mr. Shers said. “Because we’re doing such a damn good job, they’re taking more money away from us. I’m very upset with this. 

“I thought we were over with this 10-year takeaway program and it’s just more and more and more. I’d like to know when it ends. It’s a shame that the school system has worked like the dickens to keep our budget reasonable … and then to be hit with this is just awful, terrible.”

According to Mr. Kenworthy, Portsmouth and Little Compton “are the two biggest losers” when it comes to state aid next year. 

Ms. Copeland agreed that Portsmouth was getting the short end of the stick. Some communities the town is often compared with — Barrington and East Greenwich, for example — are seeing an increase in state aid for schools, she noted. 

Unfortunately, during a recent joint Town Council/School Committee session with local state legislators, it didn’t appear there would be “a lot of movement” on the funding formula in the General Assembly this year, she said. 

“There’s no sympathy for changing the school aid formula. It’s the same year after year,” added committee member Frederick Faerber III.

Tuitions also down

In addition to losing more state aid, district revenues have taken a hit on other fronts as well.

Little Compton sends its high school students to PHS, but aprojected drop in enrollment will mean an 18-percent loss ($205,669) in tuition payments for Portsmouth — from the current $1.15 million to $942,390. 

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic means that fewer students from outside communities are enrolling in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs at the high school, the superintendent said. Portsmouth is expected to lose $63,500 in CTE tuition — a 15-percent reduction.

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Meet our staff
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.