Budgeteers chop Tiverton school request

Vote for "compromise" budget

By Tom Killin Dalglish
Posted 4/5/19

TIVERTON — After an acrimonious meeting in Tiverton Town Hall last Thursday, the eleven-member town budget committee, on which the TivertonTaxpayers Association (TTA) holds a 6-5 majority, voted what it was calling a "compromise budget" of $31,442,700 to educate the town's children in the coming fiscal year.

Compromise or not, that sum is "$505,020 less than our request. We are in serious trouble," said Tiverton School Superintendent, Dr. Peter Sanchioni last Friday.

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Budgeteers chop Tiverton school request

Vote for "compromise" budget

Posted

TIVERTON — After an acrimonious meeting in Tiverton Town Hall last Thursday, the eleven-member town budget committee, on which the TivertonTaxpayers Association (TTA) holds a 6-5 majority, voted what it was calling a "compromise budget" of $31,442,700 to educate the town's children in the coming fiscal year.

Compromise or not, that sum is "$505,020 less than our request. We are in serious trouble," said Tiverton School Superintendent, Dr. Peter Sanchioni last Friday.

Budget committee member Jennifer Rashleigh had earlier in the evening sought approval of a more generous budget of $31,947,720, which lost on a 4 to 7 vote.

The final committee vote on the school budget saw members Jeff Caron (committee chairman) and Joe Sousa voting against the "compromise" proposal (they wanted even less), with Ms. Rashleigh and Deborah Janick voting against it for the opposite reason, wanting more. "I'm kinda liking this," said member Tom Haley, as he voted in favor.

Cutbacks haven't yet been made to align the newly appropriated funding with the actual school budget,  

As we just received the numbers late last Thursday night. Dr. Sanchioni said, we are now working on an impact budget and will not have that ready until sometime this week. The figures are still being analyzed.

The committee vote is being said to imperil such items as curricular and athletic improvements, technology innovations, the hiring of any new staff to improve student performance, and certain school operations and maintenance. It may also likely compel a need to dip into what officials refer to as "the fund balance."

"There are going to be brutal cuts," said committee member Brandon McNalley. "It's half a million less than what was demonstrated" to be needed.

In voting against the measure, committee member Joe Sousa said, "I think there's going to be a Budget 2 [petitioner's budget] this year, because I think the spending here is out-of-control. Budget 2 will be a bare bones budget because I'm going to put it in myself."

Before the voting, Dr. Sanchioni had told the budget committee that "town support is going to need to rise if we're going to maintain current services." But it did not.

The voted figures represent a consistent decline every year over the last five fiscal years in what the town contributes for the education of its children to the school's operating budget. 

In FY15, for example, the town's contribution was $23.5 million. In FY19 the town's contribution was $23.4 million. These declines occurred in the face of what Superintendent Sanchioni said were escalating annual costs of about 10%, and increasing special education costs annually of 10-20%. 

Pushing the hot buttons 

After a committee member said she'd like to include the demographic of families into the debate about the impact of rising costs, and the struggles that families encounter, with multiple jobs, and children, committee member Ruth Hollenbach spoke to what she called the other side of the coin.

"The other side of the coin — and don't take this the wrong way — but every couple has a choice, to have a child or to not have a child," she said.

At this point the room erupted into yelling and shouting, and people could be heard saying, "that's wrong," and Ms. Hollenbach said, "tell me why. It's not a negative. It's a good thing. You should do what you want to do, if you want to have whatever, it's okay. You realize there's financial ... you know."

Joe Sousa then jumped into the fray, shouting at the audience."Look, she's  got the floor.Stop interrupting. Try to follow Roberts Rules. I'm not going to listen to it."

Chairman Jeff Caron could be hear saying " Joe, Joe," trying to calm Mr. Sousa down.

The teacher's pay debate

Teachers' salaries came in for criticism. "In my opinion, teacher salaries are totally out-of-control," said committee member Jay Edwards. "And like you said," he told Dr. Sanchioni, who was testifying at that moment, "that's 80-85% of our budget." 

Mr. Edwards said 117 teachers are making $80,000 or more per year.

"There's a lot of people in this town that will be priced out out of their house, if we don't rein this thing in. At some point, we have to put the brakes on this thing and we have to change," Mr. Edwards said.

But the counter-argument was made by Dr. Sanchioni, who said that for multiple recent years teachers took zero pay increases. "How many years can you expect somebody to take no raise?" he said. "We're the lowest paid teachers in the region," he said.

"We're playing catch up," said Deborah Janick. "Teachers went four years with a zero percent increase, and all other town employees had 2% increases those years. Teachers are now getting a three percent increase and they're not even catching up."

School Committee Chairman Jerome Larkin said, speaking for himself, that the most recent Rhode Island Association of School Committee's data shows Tiverton "second or third from the bottom."

Long-time school committee member Sally Black said that in 2004, teachers paid a flat co-pay for health insurance of $1,150, which switched after that to a percent of the total contribution, "going in recent successive years from 12%, to 15%, to 18%, and now to 20%, while all the time they're getting zero salary increases." 

"It's a net negative," said Dr. Sanchioni.  

Also contributing to the apparent statistical elevation of salary levels, said Ranger School Principal Manny Cabral, was the change in teacher retirement laws in 2012, by which the money was pushed to be paid from the state level to the local level, and teachers were prevented from retiring until they reached social security age. This had the effect of increasing the numbers of teachers at the upper steps of the pay scale, which skewed average salaries towards the higher end.

A bit of philosophy

"With respect to taxpayers and increases like that, you spoke of the American Dream," said Dr. Sanchioni, responding to Ruth Hollenbach and others. 

"Education was Thomas Jefferson's dream, and the system he set up was that the states and towns would pay for education ... we all had a great education, we all had low class sizes ... you had sports, you had drama, you had music and art. That's what this budget provides [the $31.9 million budget he was recommending]."

"When you went to school, someone paid that bill and that responsibility gets transferred from generation to generation. It's the American Dream. We're not asking for anything more than class sizes like you had. There's no extras in this budget. It's the American Dream, but the responsibility gets transferred from generation to generation. And it's this generation's time. And you know, if you benefitted from it and you received that benefit, then it is your responsibility now to hold to providing that benefit, and you need to look at it that way."

But the budget committee voted $505,020 less than he had requested.

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