Level-funding amid soaring inflation

Taxpayers warned of school staff and bus cuts

Posted 5/22/24

Cranston Public Schools are warning taxpayers of “significant cuts to staffing, programming, and transportation,” including the elimination of 15-20 teaching and administration jobs and …

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Level-funding amid soaring inflation

Taxpayers warned of school staff and bus cuts


Cranston Public Schools are warning taxpayers of “significant cuts to staffing, programming, and transportation,” including the elimination of 15-20 teaching and administration jobs and bus route consolidation.

According to a warning issued last week, the Cranston School Department blames the potential layoffs and program cuts on being “once again level-funded in this year’s city budget.”

“I am disappointed that the school administration is using our children as pawns in their budget decisions,” said Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins. “This is a year of austerity for all of us.”

The school department now projects an approximate $3 million budget shortfall.

“The Cranston School Committee adopted a total district budget of $181,712,717 for the 2024-25 school year, which reflected a modest increase of $1,890,005, or 1.9%,” according to Cranston Public Schools’ message to city residents. “This adopted budget reflected the values of the District’s mission and vision which include the district-wide improvement of student achievement, maintenance of core academic programs as well as aligned instructional systems that reflect the needs of all 21st Century learners.”

According to Hopkins’s Chief of Staff Anthony C. Moretti, school funding accounts for more than half (around 56%) of the overall $325 million city budget.

“I proposed an overall school budget of $179,822,712,” according to a statement from Hopkins. “This was an increase from last year of $1,079,760.”

Due to the projected, alleged budget shortfall, the Cranston School Committee and the District will be “working to address the funding gap for next year by making proposed cuts.”

The staffing cuts were broken down into several categories, and “will impact district-wide academic services and programming,” according to the statement from the school administration.

The district warned of “the elimination of approximately 15 to 20 positions including teachers and administrators.” According to the school department, the staff cuts will “inevitably lead to cuts in programming and increased class size.”

Some families relying on school transportation may also experience changes, including “the realignment of school bus routes by utilizing depot stops for secondary schools,” “the elimination of transportation for middle school sports,” and “the elimination of before and after-school city-wide daycare transportation,” according to Cranston Schools.

Post-COVID Austerity

“Three years ago, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and after discovering that I inherited a multi-million-dollar deficit from my predecessor, I advised the school administration that both the city and the schools needed to plan ahead to tighten our fiscal belts in order to restore financial stability,” Hopkins argued. “Early on, in the city side of the budget, I developed a plan and now I eliminated structural deficits and restored our rainy-day fund to levels required by the city charter. Over these years, I expected the school administration to do their part.”

According to Hopkins, “on the city side,” he eliminated 24 “positions over the last three years and implemented spending contingencies and accountability throughout the city. The city council two weeks ago even eliminated a position in my office to give the money to the schools.”

School administrators, however, argue “next year’s budget shortfall is the culmination of two years of level funding in the city’s budget.”

“While the city council has amended the administration’s proposed level funded budget to include an additional $198,000, the proposed budget still falls far short of the district’s needs and obligations,” according to the statement from Cranston Schools. “The District administration will continue to work in seeking additional cost savings to minimize the impact on students but is not optimistic that it can maintain the same level of service to which Cranston’s families have been accustomed.”

Bond, School Bond

On June 4, Cranston will also hold a special referendum vote with just a single item on the ballot. Voters will decide whether to issue a bond for up to $40 million, to help fund Cranston Public Schools.

“Why is the Cranston School Department asking for a special election and not waiting for the November election?” Cranston School Committee Vice Chair Domenic F Fusco Jr. (Ward 3) asked in a letter to the editor last week. “The answer is simple, higher reimbursement rate from the state. The projects this bond will cover must be approved before June 30 … This will allow Cranston to apply for, and most likely receive, a reimbursement rate of up to 74%.”

According to Fusco, a $40 million bond could “net out to a final cost to the taxpayers of $10,400,000,” providing Cranston taxpayers “a once in a lifetime offer to complete some projects at a greatly reduced cost.”

If approved by voters, the bond could cover the completion of phase III of Eden Park School (wrapping a remodel which includes the school’s lower wing), refurbishing of the parking lot at Cranston High School West, installation of a new HVAC system at Cranston High School East, floor replacement in some elementary schools, the completion of Gladstone School, and the possible purchase and renovation of a third Cranston high school, the Apprenticeship Exploration School (AES).

“When I questioned the contract negotiated with the union several years ago, I was criticized but the school administration assured me they could afford the pay increases without having to cut programs or student services,” Hopkins argued after the school released the staff-cutting statement. “Even level funded, Cranston schools continue to represent about 56% of the overall budget Cranston taxpayers will pay over $99 million towards our schools. That funding includes an additional $3 million the schools received from me and the council in the last three years that is now built into the city’s required maintenance of effort.”

RI Also Disappoints

According to Hopkins, “Cranston schools is also receiving an increase of about $3.4 million from the State of Rhode Island.”

“As Mayor I have a responsibility to all taxpayers, and I did not raise taxes this year,” Hopkins said. “I asked my department heads on the city side to do more with less.”

School administrators, however, say the state has also been providing less money than expected. According to Cranston Public Schools budget FAQ sheet, “two things happened which impacted the amount of funding the state allotted for Cranston Public Schools, causing us to receive $1,696,843 less in funding from the state.”

“The Governor moved away from the established method of calculating the Core Instructional Amount and instead introduced a Consumer Price Index (CPI) cap as part of the calculation, which lowered the amount of money used to determine the Student Success Factor,” according to the schools. “The change in calculation of the Core Instructional Amount affected the calculation of the Student Success Factor because it was applied against a lower valued Core Instructional Amount.”

Late Wednesday, Gov. Daniel J. McKee’s Press Secretary Olivia DaRocha provided a statement regarding state aid in Cranston.

“The Fiscal Year 2025 recommended budget includes $77.8 million in state education aid to Cranston – an increase of $3.37 million from the current fiscal year,” DaRocha explained. “While the State decided to smooth the impacts of high inflation over several years, no further changes are recommended in how the State calculates the Core Instruction Amount (CIA). Additionally, the State previously held districts harmless for enrollment declines during the pandemic. We have been phasing in the financial impact of the declines over several years to ease the burden on local education agencies (LEAs) — a decision made in tandem with the inflation cap.”

School districts, like the families they serve, also seem to be buckling under the weight of staggering inflation.

“From a more holistic perspective, the recommended budget includes a year-over-year increase of $63.7 million in state aid for education,” DaRocha continued. “This includes increasing funding for Multilingual Learners to 25% of the CIA (now 15%), as well as coaching services to LEAs with the most acute academic needs. The budget also funds 35 new pre-K classrooms to come online for the 2024-25 school year and pays the costs of reduced-price meals for all qualifying students.”

The school department told taxpayers that they “depend on funding from both the state and the city to appropriately fund our budget every year.”

“When the state lowers its funding, it is with the understanding that the city will support its residents — our students and their families — in their local budget,” school administrators argue. “When the City of Cranston repeatedly underfunds the schools in their budget, and the state has also given less money in their budget, the school department has no choice but to make significant cuts to programming and positions to make up for the increase in costs of supplies and services, to have a balanced budget. We are required by law to submit a balanced budget.”

According to Hopkins, he recently met with Cranston Schools Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse, “to give them up to $1 million from our remaining ARPA funds apart from this budget process.”

Hopkins and City Council have been at odds over allocation of Cranston’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, which need to be spent this year, or lost.

“In 2020, I and Cranston taxpayers supported a $147 million bond referendum for school purposes,” Hopkins recalled. “On June 4th, voters will be asked to approve another $40 million bond issue for Cranston schools. I support that bond referenda. My proposed capital budget provided almost $77 million for our schools. Cranston taxpayers are investing heavily in our schools and on the city side we pay for their debt service obligations to repay these bond issues.”


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