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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The North Kingstown School Committee held their first meeting of 2021 Tuesday night via Zoom and much of the night’s attention was focused on the budget for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2022 and its implications on the 2021/22 school year and beyond. 

“At this point, we don’t know with certainty what the state of the pandemic will be this fall,” Superintendent Phil Auger said. 

Auger unveiled his proposed budget for FY ‘22 Monday night, the first step in the budget proposal process which will need to go through the School Committee and the Town Council before being finalized, which features a proposed general fund of $71,932,787, a 2.13 percent overall increase and a 4 percent increase from the Town of North Kingstown over FY ‘21, which Auger said was the maximum amount the district could ask for.

This town increase greatly exceeds their .18 percent ($96,000) increase from FY ‘20 to FY ‘21 and includes the $500,000 reappropriation of the school fund balance approved during their Nov. 17 meeting. 

The assumptions for the budget, largely backed by that reappropriation and other cuts made by the district, is for no new major expenditures in the new fiscal year, with full time employee levels expected to remain the same as FY ‘21, with a reduction in all one year distance learning full time employees.

“A lot of the staff we hired this year were (for) one year only,” Auger said. 

The biggest financial loss expected in the budget proposal comes in the form of state aid from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), with FY ‘22 seeing an adjusted projection of $11.1 million, a 5.8 percent reduction from FY ‘21.

“(Next year’s) state budget doesn’t look all that great,” NKSD Chief Operating Officer Mary King said.

Auger and the district also project an increasing cost of five percent or more on health care and about a two to three percent increase in wages as they look to renegotiate with the support staff union. 

Auger noted that the state of the pandemic come September is the biggest question affecting the budget plan, particularly when it comes to distance learning.

“A lot of the demand for distance learning should be behind us in the fall, but we can’t be too sure,” Auger said.

He also noted that the budget did not include the district’s need to further incorporate technology and security needs into their regular operating budget, an increased bus fleet or improved school start times, the latter two which had been one of the district’s more pressing issues pre-COVID and something the district says it is interested in doing.

The busing of private school students who live in the district, an issue that has come up during public comment in previous meetings this school year, was addressed, with the School Committee taking a 5-0 vote to include the busing of private school students in the 2021/22 school year plans and return to the pre-COVID protocols for such transportation in the next school year. 

The meeting also saw the introduction of the committee’s two new student representatives, Jacob Cedor and Owen Grace, who serve as the North Kingstown High School President and Vice President respectively, and replace former Student Union President Joe Vento in the role.

Auger said he looked forward to working with both students and that they would be giving quarterly reports to the School Committee on the activities and proposals by the Student Union.

Cedor thanked Auger and the committee for their help and said both him and Grace look forward to working with them.

A few groups made presentations early in the evening, including the North Kingstown Boosters Club, which announced their proposal to rename the turf field at the high school’s stadium after the school’s late athletic director Dick Fossa, whom the group called “instrumental” in making a new turf field a reality for the Skippers.

“I’m not sure anyone was more proud to showcase that field than Dick was,” NK Booster Club President Kara Martone said.

Under the proposal, the turf field itself would be renamed “Dick Fossa Memorial Field,” with the group saying a nameplate would go on the bottom of the scoreboard, replacing the sign currently noting the scoreboard was donated by the NK Booster Club in 2019. 

The School Committee agreed with the proposal, but Blasbalg noted that they would need a few months before they can formally rename the field, citing rules regarding the renaming of athletic fields after prominent deceased local figures.

The members of the School Committee also decided on which members will represent the body on four different committees. School Committee Chairman Greg Blasbalg decided to continue as a member of the Facilities Management and Planning (Building Committee) Sub-Committee, joined by Jake Mather, replacing former Vice Chairman Bob Jones. Jennifer Haskins will continue with both the Policy Sub-Committee, where she’ll be joined by Lisa Hildebrand, and as liaison to SELAC, while Hildebrand will stay on the Wellness Sub-Committee and be joined by Jen Lima.

The next School Committee meeting is slated for Jan. 26, with another meeting the Tuesday following. 

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