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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The North Kingstown School Committee held preliminary discussions regarding its budget request to the town council for the 2022-23 school year at its first meeting of the year on Tuesday.

Superintendent Phil Auger raised concerns over issues such as inconsistent state funding over the last several years, supply chain shortages, inflation, staffing shortages of vendors and increased costs of healthcare all of which raise concerns for the current budget’s ability to cover needed costs. Auger has proposed a budget request from the town of just under $57,746,398 an increase from the previous budget of almost $2 million, an increase of 3.35%.

In addition to the larger request for funding from the town Auger has suggested using $500,000 from the school committee’s fund balance to help cover funding needs and to make up needed funds in fiscal year 22, 23 and 24.

“In the past year because of going into COVID and some of the savings we’ve been able to incur we felt like this would be a good time,” Auger said. “This is not a practice we generally like to do. It has a lot of bad ramifications but I’m proposing we use this money to cover for a short fall in our funding.”

Auger said that the continued lack of a consistent capital infrastructure funding plan is also a concern as well as the unmet needs for an increased bus fleet especially to meet improved school start times which could include later starting times at the high school and an earlier start time at some of the elementary schools.

“There is nothing in anyone’s budget in North Kingstown to address some of those issues,” explained Auger. “So when we’re lucky to have surplus funds we devote some of those to it and when we get to a point that we need to go to a bond we do it that way.”

In additional talks about spending money the school board voted unanimously to purchase dispensers for feminine hygiene products to be installed into bathrooms as a result of a new law which goes into effect on July 1. The law requires that these products be made readily available at no cost for all students from 5th to 12th grades.

“For us that means for us all nine of our schools,” said Chief Operating Officer Mary King. “As you know our elementary schools have grade five in them. We need to purchase the machines and ABM, our custodial partners, are the best ones to do that from, and they will keep the machines stocked.”

Councilor Jen Lima noted that the school system already provides these products to students in need at the nurse’s office, but the new dispensers are being installed to help cut down the wasted time used by students needing to travel to the nurse’s office to get them and to allow for the streamlining of the process.     

While the budget was a large portion of the night’s meeting parents are still heavily concerned about the continuing investigation into impropriety by former coach Aaron Thomas and how the investigation is being handled and why it is taking so long.

There were few updates on the investigation presented at the meeting, Auger announced that the US Attorney will be launching a civil investigation into the district’s responses to staff misconduct by former coach Thomas. Auger claimed the North Kingstown school department would cooperate with the investigation.

The school committee’s next meeting will be held electronically on January 25 at 7 p.m. and can be viewed live on Youtube or joined via zoom for those who wish to participate in public comment.

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