Burrillville schools would cut 9.5 staff members under governor’s proposed budget

Members of the Town Council discussed the school funding issue with state legislators last week.

BURRILLVILLE – The state budget proposed by Gov. Dan McKee would see major cuts in funding for the Burrillville School District for the second consecutive year, creating a need to reduce staffing and programs to make up a $424,339 shortfall, according to Supt. Michael Sollitto.

Sollitto presented the district’s draft budget to the Burrillville Budget Board this week, requesting $725,436 more for schools in fiscal year 2025 over the 2024 allocation, marking a 2 percent increase. Even if the Town Council fully funds the request, the superintendent said that balancing the budget will require a reduction of 9.5 staff members, likely including six teachers.

“If these positions were included in the budget, our increase would be close to $2 million,” said Sollitto. “The elimination of the positions is what allowed us to reduce the request to an increase of $725,436. We do not anticipate cutting any programs but our course offerings at the high school level may be reduced.”

Councilors questioned the governor’s proposal last week, asking state legislators what, if anything, can be done to secure additional funding for the district.

“There’s an inequity on the governor’s appropriation,” said Councilor Stephen Rawson. “My question is: What criteria is he using?”

In communication with NRI NOW this week, Sollitto described the state aid formula as, “complex,” and explained that to his understanding, the three driving forces that determine a district’s share of the funding are student enrollment, the number of students living at or below the poverty level, and the wealth of the community. Like many districts in Rhode Island, Burrillville schools have seen declining enrollment over the past several years.

“During the pandemic years, the state used a, ‘hold harmless,’ provision and locked districts in at their pre-pandemic enrollment numbers,” Sollitto explained. “This was done since so many families pulled their students out of schools during the pandemic and the hold harmless provision protected the districts from huge losses in state aid.” 

Last year, however, true enrollment numbers were used, creating significant shortfalls for many districts, so the state formula added stabilization funds, which allowed the loss to be spread out over two years. Still, Burrillville schools lost $292,513 from the state allocation in fiscal year 2024.

This year, a similar process occurred, with the governor’s proposed budget adding some outside funds to school districts slated to face large losses under the formula. 

“If this was not done and the original formula was strictly followed, Burrillville would lose $796,511 instead of the $434,339 loss,” said Sollitto. “While this is appreciated, we still face a significant budget obstacle.”

The public school leader noted that the state formula has also changed how the level of poverty is measured, which caused figures on Burrillville’s poverty level to drop, contributing to the loss of state aid. The wealth of the Burrillville community, as measured by a system known as, “equalized weighted assessed valuation,” meanwhile, has risen. 

“This also contributed to the drop in aid,” said Sollitto.

One clear inequity in the governor’s proposal, at least according to the local leaders, is the increase for charter schools, which are on track to receive an additional $20 million in state aid this year. Sollitto noted that charter schools educate only a small percentage of students – estimated at around 10 percent in Rhode Island – while the traditional public schools educate the other 90 percent.

Further complicating the shortfall, the district’s contract with the Burrillville Teachers’ Association is set to expire this year, with negotiations with the union currently underway.

“Our teachers are among the lowest paid in the state and a raise is well deserved,” Sollitto said.

The superintendent said he knows the $725,436 request will be, “a major obstacle for the Town Council,” as budget deliberations begin.

Councilors are also concerned about how the funding gap will play out in June, and in a meeting with Reps. Brian Newberry and David Place, and Sen. Jessica de la Cruz last week, asked for guidance on what can be done.

“It really affects us tremendously,” said Rawson of McKee’s proposal. “The funding formula seems to be really screwed up. We don’t know his methodology. The inequities here are amazing.”

“It turns out there’s 14 school districts comprising 17 communities that are negatively impacted by the governor’s recommendation,” Rawson added, asking the legislators if it made sense to solicit the other communities for support of a resolution that would limit the losses.

“Do you think that would hold any weight?” Rawson asked.

“The only way that things change is to put pressure,” responded de la Cruz. “It’s not a bad idea.”

Newberry noted that a group of Burrillville teachers has already visited the state house to discuss the problem. He recommended the teachers call on local union leadership to put pressure on the Rhode Island legislature.

“They have a lot of power at the state level,” said Newberry. “They have a lot of influence. You’ve got to talk to your local union leaders here.”

“I am going to do everything I can to approve budget amendments to ensure that the funding of Burrillville is maintained to at least level funding,” said Place. Still, he said, “If they are serious about saving teachers’ jobs, than they will be serious about lobbying the speaker. They are the ones with the power to fix this.”

“The unions can fix this if they want to – and they should,” Newberry added.

“There’s going to be 9 and a half positions right now, probably more, and there are going to be cuts to programs,” said Town Council President Donald Fox. “How much can we afford for a new contract in face of another massive cut? The local union is already pointing toward the council as if it’s our fault”

“The local union right here is not taking your advice,” Fox told Newberry. “They are now signing petitions to say the Town Council should support it’s teachers, when they should be doing exactly what you’re suggesting and I hope our local union is listening.”

“Right now, it’s going to be turned right around on us because they want to have a bad guy,” Fox added. “We don’t make this decision. We all want to see appropriate funding for the school department. They should be pointing it to the state house.”

“Patrick Crowley – he is the person you call,” said Place, pointing to the secretary treasurer of the AFL CIO. “He is the top union official in the state.”

Fox noted that he personally told the governor that community couldn’t weather another major cut prior to release of this year’s proposal.

“I remember standing here specifically asking him about this,” said Fox.

“This is the time to get in the face of union leadership about the dues you pay and tell them to do their job,” said Newberry. “This isn’t right.”

de la Cruz said a multi-pronged approach to tackle the issue would be the best path forward.

Councilors voted unanimously to draft a letter soliciting support and a resolution to be distributed to other communities affected by the cuts.

For his part, Sollitto seems inclined to remain optimistic.

“Hopefully, there will be some unanticipated budget adjustments at either the state or local level that will for the budget to be funded,” Sollitto said.  

Editor’s note: A few of the above quotes originally attributed to Rep. Brian Newberry were actually said by Rep. David Place and have since been corrected. We apologize for the error.

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  1. Good thing the Burrillville Town Council just committed to spending $5 million dollars on a new football field that no one asked for, that will never pay for itself, and cost ~$1.5 million every 8-10 years as the playing surface wears out.

    That shiny new field will sure get a lot of use and playtime as kids leave the district in droves due to lack of teachers and sports start getting cut to save money.

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