Block Island School budget woes

Tue, 01/11/2022 - 7:00am

Superintendent Bob Gerardi presented the Block Island School’s budget concerns to the Town Council on Monday night with a mix of “unanticipated” decreases in revenue and “unanticipated” increases in expenses.

Calling it a “challenging budget year,” Gerardi explained that the school was anticipating a $154,000 decrease in state funding. He called it a “71 percent decrease” from what the school received in state aid last year. While emphasizing that the state budget is often fluid up until the last second, and so the numbers could change, Gerardi said the school was preparing for this extraordinary shortfall.
Gerardi told the council that every school in Rhode Island, except for Smithfield, had been losing students throughout the pandemic and would thus be losing money. The school has lost 19 students since last year, and when this is calculated into the state’s formula it corresponds to a decrease of $154,000.
Gerardi reported that at the onset of the pandemic, Block Island School had gained enrollment as people came to their second homes on the island to escape the mainland. Now, it seems, people are returning to their primary residences on the mainland, according to Gerardi.

While the school did receive an increase in funding with the addition of students during the pandemic, Finance Director Melanie Reeves confirmed that the decrease this year is more than the increase that the school received.
The superintendent also reported a loss of revenue of $8,000 in Medicaid reimbursement for the school. He touched on the good side of this loss, however, by pointing out that this meant the students were not needing as many medical services as before.
There were also increases in expenses to discuss, with Gerardi listing the Rhode Island Department of Education’s insistence on curriculum upgrades to the tune of $26,000, and professional development in the amount of $5,000. He called these a “tough pill to swallow” in this difficult year. Additionally, property insurance is expected to go up and cyber-security insurance is expected to go up as well.

It was not all bad news, however, as Gerardi said the school had been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. This money has some restrictions, however, as Gerardi said the purpose of the federal money is to catch kids up from “learning loss.” He said the staff would be “creative,” but the money cannot be used strictly to replace the money lost from the state.

Additionally, the school expects to see savings of $86,000 a year from the switch to telehealth for speech and language therapy as opposed to an actual employee. The school also expects to see savings of $17,000 per year with the switch to an electric bus, which Gerardi said was donated by a philanthropist. Block Island School is one of the first districts to have an electric bus, according to Gerardi. Another six to seven
thousand dollars will also be saved through the school’s buying out the leases on the copy machines.
Second Warden Sven Risom asked what the council could do to help with these budget issues, with Gerardi replying that the best thing to do is to write the state legislators. He said to tell them the town needs more support, pointing out that it is much harder to adjust a small budget like Block Island School’s than it is to adjust a large budget like some mainland schools have.
The school will continue to work on the budget over the coming months, with several budget workshops scheduled. The budget can go through many iterations before finally being voted on at the Financial Town Meeting normally held in May.