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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The North Kingstown School Committee unanimously approved Superintendent Phil Auger’s preliminary budget, to be submitted to the Town Council for approval, for Fiscal Year 2022, and the 2021/22 school year, during their meeting Monday night via Zoom.

The budget calls for a total expenditure of $71,932,787, a 2.13 percent increase over the FY21 budget, which would include a town appropriation of $56,062,787 but doesn’t include a special revenue funding of $2,908,308. The budget does include an enterprise fund of $1,774,888, including $963,764 for food services, $30,000 in computer repair, $21,124 in gate receipts from sporting events and $60,000 from summer sports camps. 

The budget however does not include funding for COVID-19 related spending, such as distance learning teachers, classroom deep cleaning and police traffic details, with the district feeling optimistic that there will not be as great a need for such precautions next year, though noting things could change one way or another depending on the situation with the virus come this fall and that the purchase of additional PPE can be covered by the supplies budget.

“We have to have a budget, and a budget is a budget, it can change,” School Committee Chairman Gregory Blasbalg said, adding that he felt the superintendent’s proposal is “the best (the district) can do at this time.”

Including and beyond the 2021/22 budget, Auger noted that he expects to have a mostly full reopening for the upcoming school year as conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic should be a lot better by that time, however that is all dependent on how the next few months go.

“Everything depends on the state of (COVID-19) at that time and the state of the vaccinations,” Auger said, adding he envisions mask wearing to be in place for at least the early portion of the year.

In his superintendent’s report, Auger noted the number of students taking part in the district’s Distance Learning Academy decreased from the first semester to the second semester. In the first semester, 77 percent of students took part in in-person learning while 23 percent were fully online with the DLA. In the second semester, 81 percent of students are in-person while 19 percent are still enrolled in the DLA.

Auger said he did not have any updates on potential end of year activities or the Fall 2021 semester other than the hope to have a mostly full reopening depending on the COVID-19 situation. Likewise, Auger said there is currently no set plan for graduation ceremonies at the high school, but that the district is looking at several options and should have one set in place later this spring. 

All items on the agenda that went to a vote were unanimously approved, with one of the most prominent being the vote to approve the district seeking a Request for Proposal (RFP) into the purchase cost of a new, medium-sized school bus to replace the a nine-year old bus currently out of service that needs a new engine. 

Chief Operating Officer Mary King said the cost to replace the current bus’s engine would be $25,741.70, roughly a quarter of it’s initial cost, or they could opt to use it for parts and buy a new bus in the ballpark of $100,000 to $110,000. She said on average the district keeps its buses for roughly 12 years, though admitted the district tends to hold on to buses for slightly longer, so in the end she believes they’ll roughly end up costing the same over the next three to five years, however King also noted that there’s no guarantee that even with a new engine the bus would last those additional years.

Committee member Jacob Mather said he could expect either option to cost the district roughly $10,000 a year, so if the new engine was able to last at least two and a half years then the investment should be worth it. 

King expressed her disappointment that they were dealing with such a serious issue with a nine year old bus with fairly low mileage compared to other similarly aged buses and said that the district has a bit of a surplus they could pull from that might not be there in three to five years, when they may also have to replace some other buses, so it could be worth at least exploring the cost of purchasing a new bus, a sentiment Blasbalg agreed with.

Additionally, the School Committee voted unanimously to return $333,333 in supplemental appropriation for FY21 which went unused to the Town of North Kingstown, money which King said had been appropriated by the Town Council for the schools last May in the event of a worst case scenario regarding the COVID-19 pandemic that they never needed to dip into, and recommended the money was returned to the town, something Blasbalg also agreed with as a way of repaying the Town Council for their generosity in granting such a figure. 

Other votes of note were the approval of funding for the police traffic details for drop off and pick up times at the high school, Wickford Middle School, Hamilton Elementary School and Stony Lane Elementary School for the remainder of the school year, the approval of funding for the high school music department to put on a virtual performance of “Jekyll and Hyde” as their spring musical and the official appointment of Joan Beisel and Ibris Berganza as School Committee clerks. 

The next North Kingstown School Committee meeting is scheduled for March 9.

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