Gridlock to affect Johnston schools

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The state budget impasse has left more than $45 million in school funding up in the air, with $936,573 of that being unavailable to Johnston as the fiscal year begins.

Funding for Johnston’s schools increased in this year’s budget, as Johnston Town Council approved a budget for education of $54,050,137, an increase of $1.7 million from the previous year, at their June meeting.

“We’re going to lose in school aid over $936,000. That’s a lot of money for us, but when you look at Providence they’re going to lose $12 million. Yesterday I met with the school department, the chairwoman, vice-chairwoman, their finance director and Dr. [Bernard] DiLullo to find out what their strategy was,” said Mayor Joseph Polisena on Tuesday. “Obviously, they will have to make cuts, and we’re probably going to have to go back and amend the school budget with the deduction of the $936,000 in state aid, because I don’t want to get caught later on that we have to make up that money.”

Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo said on Tuesday that the district is taking action now to address the shortfall. He believes that the schools are in “pretty decent shape” financially and if any emergencies come up there are reserves that can be drawn upon. He hopes that the need to draw on those reserves doesn’t arise, as it may create a structural deficit when that money is used for operational costs.

“We’re going to plan for that whole reduction, which is $936,000 plus. So essentially what that means is that we’re going to be operating with about $83,000 less per month in terms of covering our costs,” said DiLullo. “As we look toward the next school year, I do have some open positions which will probably remain open; we won’t fill those positions until we understand where we’re going to be once that budget gets passed, if it gets passed.”

Some of the positions that will remain open include teacher aides, which were added per this year’s approved town budget. The superintendent had also wished to staff elementary schools with full-time Guidance Counselors, but now plans to stay with the current part time staff.

DiLullo explained that the district had planned on expanding their one to one computer program at the elementary schools for the upcoming year, in which each child would have access to a computer or electronic device to facilitate learning. While those plans are now on hold, he reiterated that students will still will have access to computers and laptops, as classrooms are already equipped with some devices.

“We’re going to take a very conservative approach to this rather than say we’re going to move full speed ahead with our plans. It’s disappointing, we were making such progress in these areas,” said DiLullo. “My hope is that the budget gets resolved sooner rather than later, each day that goes by that allocation does get reduced because we don’t have that revenue coming in. The longer that this goes on, the more that $936,000 figure becomes a reality.”

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