School Committee OKs budget plan, awaits absentee rates

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On a 4-0 vote and without discussion, the Johnston School Committee on Tuesday approved Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo’s initial $57.2-million district budget plan for the coming fiscal year.

The vote was largely a formality, as the committee members had their opinions heard during a workshop last month. DiLullo reiterated to the Sun Rise after the meeting adjourned that, if the Town Council asks the School Committee to make further cuts, the budget would reappear on the agenda during the summer. He said the budget usually goes before the council in June.

“It was difficult this year,” DiLullo said. “We had more kids that are going to out-of-district schools, and that puts kind of a burden on the budget … So if [the council doesn’t] approve it, we have to bring it back and rework the budget.”

The additional out-of-district students – who are headed to vocational schools at Cranston West, Scituate and Smithfield – will account for an increase of $572,275 in this year’s budget.

DiLullo said unfortunate timing can make it difficult to foresee the financial implications of more students heading out of the district.

“A couple of things have happened,” he said. “Cranston West, which is our vo-tech school, included the ninth grade in the past two years, so that upped their enrollment. We don’t really know who’s considering it until they start sending in their applications. That’s happening from the middle school, and it’s typically been running between January and March, which is our budget planning season.”

DiLullo provided an update on the district’s push to receive absentee rates from vocational institutions. The issue was first raised at the March 26 budget workshop by District 1 committee member Robert LaFazia, who said that in the past schools “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 the money” if students were absent a substantial number of days.

Both DiLullo and LaFazia advocated for withholding the fourth-quarter payment to those schools, most notably Cranston. DiLullo said Tuesday that word has gone out to the schools from which they have requested the figures. The district received a response that the numbers would be sent out, but Johnston is still waiting.

Outgoing Rhode Island Department of Education Commissioner Ken Wagner said last week during an interview at the Sun Rise offices that his office could be used to facilitate an answer. Wagner said there cold be a formal hearing, but more than likely a resolution could be reached informally.

“Let us help,” Wagner said. “If they haven’t already, reach out to our team at RIDE and let us help. I’m sure there are required data points that have to be shared across providers, but then there’s good faith sharing across providers. So if there’s a problem with one entity suppressing from another entity, we would absolutely want to try to help broker a solution to that.”

DiLullo said he would prefer to resolve the problem through working together with the other districts first, but left the option open to go to RIDE if the issue persists.

“You want to go down to RIDE when all else fails,” DiLullo said. “Down the road, if we don't get them, yeah, we’ll get satisfaction. Absolutely. In the past few years, we’ve actually sent a budget to them without major increases, so we haven't had to do that.” OLAGUNDOYE HONORED The School Committee presented a certificate to Johnston sophomore Olatian “Lala” Olagundoye for her sixth-place finish in the high jump during a March track meet in Massachusetts.

“We’re very proud of this” District 4 committee member Joseph Rotella said, as he handed the certificate to Olagundoye and the crowd began to cheer.

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