Superintendent talks finance, administration with JHS students

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When Johnston Superintendent Bernard DiLullo visited the juniors and seniors of Debra Smyth, a business teacher at Johnston High School, to give the classroom a special Monday morning presentation about finance and what it’s like to operate a school department, the students posed some serious questions.

“Will we have school tomorrow,” and “Can you cancel school tonight?” were among the top inquiries, which led to a larger discussion about how schools manage weather-related issues and the financial impacts they have.

“If it looks like a definite forecast, we try to make the call the night before, and we talk statewide because it’s a critical decision to cancel school. You don’t want to prematurely cancel school if it’s not needed,” said DiLullo. “Financially what happens is we need to bring all of our maintenance staff in for overtime. In order to get the lots plowed they work sometimes all day and night plowing and shoveling walkways.”

The superintendent’s discussion along with his question and answer session with students provided insights into how the school department operates in the community and what resources are necessary to maintain a functioning school system.

Students were surprised to learn that the district’s operating budget of approximately $54 million, which far exceeded their estimates. The superintendent explained the school’s revenue steams, including contributions from the town totaling $37,579,015, with state funding totaling $15,611,122, along with other miscellaneous revenue from Medicaid and reimbursements for services.

“That’s a real key component of running a school district is making sure you have enough money to do it, and then staying within that budget every year to make sure you don’t overspend,” he said.

While some students told the superintendent they’d like to own their own businesses someday, DiLullo discussed expenses such as salary and benefits. He explained that Johnston schools employs about 500 people, with nearly 300 teachers and 200 support staff, including teacher assistants, custodians, and administrators. At a cost of approximately $41 million, staffing is the district’s largest expense.

“But those are the key people; you need teachers and you need support staff to run the district,” he said.

Dr. DiLullo also revealed how other programs, such as athletics, building maintenance, student transportation, and special education services need to be planned, and that each year, every department head, including every principal, meets to discuss what’s needed for us next year. Budgets are then combed through line by line.

Students asked how lunch and meal programs affect the schools. DiLullo explained how food service is contracted s through Aramark, an outside vendor, and how the schools receive federal funds for lunches.

DiLullo further explained how if certain schools have 35 percent or more of free or reduced lunch participants, they are considered a partial Title 1 or a full Title 1 school. Students then learned how Johnston has one full Title 1 school, Thornton Elementary, and three partial schools Title 1 schools; the high school, Ferri Middle School and the Early Childhood Center, and Windsor Hill Elementary.

As the class plays the stock market game, and the superintendent is a participant, he revealed his stock picks along with the reasons behind his choices. While he admits he hadn’t spent all his funds, he thought about what economic sectors are doing well, and with all the recent healthcare changes he chose to invest in healthcare stocks like CVS. He also purchased Apple stock, because technology is always changing.

The presentation concluded with Dr. DiLullo speaking with the students about their future and career choices, which ranged from military service in the Air Force to becoming a brain surgeon. 

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