DiLullo presents proposed $57M budget plan to School Committee

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Johnston Public Schools Superintendent Bernard DiLullo presented his proposed district budget plan for the coming fiscal year, totaling approximately $57.2 million, during a special School Committee workshop Tuesday night at Ferri Middle School.

The meeting lasted just longer than 30 minutes, with DiLullo going through every total line in the 19-page document. The School Committee unanimously voted to send the budget to its full April 9 meeting for approval, after which it would go on to the Town Council.

DiLullo told the Sun Rise after the meeting that he should know by June whether more cuts are necessary to round out the budget.

The $57.2 million figure represents an increase of more than $650,000 over the current year’s budget. The budget is usually due to the Town Council by April 1, but DiLullo and committee Chairwoman Janice D. Mele acknowledged it would be late.

DiLullo said the district will continue to examine the budget “in terms of trying to get closer to our revenue source.”

The most debated figure in the budget is a $572,275 increase to the out-of-district tuition line item. DiLullo said the cost has gone up as a result of two factors – ninth grade being added when Johnston typically only sends students in grades 10-12, and pathways programs for students at Ponaganset, Scituate and Smithfield.

“We try to keep within the projected budget, and as you saw this year, because of those out-of-district regular education programs, it was difficult to do,” DiLullo said.

District 1 representative Robert A. LaFazia took issue with the fact that the district has not received absentee rates from most of the institutions to which it sends its students. Both DiLullo and Johnston High School Principal Dennis Morrell, speaking from the crowd, said they have asked for the figures but have still not received them.

“In years past we have kids that are attending those facilities, 40 days, 50 days, 60 days out. They wouldn’t notify us because they knew that we would pull those kids out and bring them back in and they were going to keep their money,” LaFazia said. “They weren’t going to get that money, but what do we have to do?”

DiLullo said the best course of action might be to withhold the district’s fourth-quarter payment until absentee rates are delivered, an idea to which LaFazia quickly co-signed. Morrell said he has asked “constantly” for the numbers.

“If there’s a problem, they’ll send them back in a heartbeat,” Morrell said. “When there’s a problem with the student.”

Business Manager Fred Azar said he was certain the third-quarter payment was delivered, but the fourth-quarter sum can be held. Solicitor Dylan Conley said that, if the district decides to follow through, it should provide notice beforehand.

“That way it’s in good faith and we’re withholding based on the need for … information before they just don’t get a check,” Conley said.

DiLullo said the problem persists mostly with the Cranston institutions, such as the Laborers’ Academy and career and tech center, and not so much with Ponaganset.

Outside of the discussion on those figures, there were very few questions from the board and none from the sparse crowd. LaFazia advocated sending the budget to the Town Council, after the full committee vote, as is before tackling any potential cuts in the summer.

“There’s no sense in making cuts now when we don’t know actually what we’re going to get, unless we feel that we need to make additional cuts because of that increase in vo-tech schools,” LaFazia said.

The budget featured significant reductions in text materials, which DiLullo told the Sun Rise is a result of increase reliance on online resources. There was an almost $200,000 cut in special education, too, owing largely to out-of-district placements that have been reduced.

“We haven’t really cut any services that we offer within our district,” DiLullo said.

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